A SHORT STORY
Throw Away Boats
If you travel a lot, especially if you are a cruise enthusiast, you will on occasion come across ship and boat wrecks either grounded or in shallow water. They seem to garner more attention than wrecks on land. Maybe there is something more intriguing or romantic about ship wrecks because they seem to recall huge tragedies or great seafaring legends. It’s unlikely you’ll find a story titled The Old Wreck Highway 66, but there are accounts that live on about the Andrea Doria, Rubin James, Titanic, Edmond Fitzgerald and more.
On a recent port call in Montevideo, Uruguay we came across what looked like a ship graveyard, right in the middle of the harbor. Derelict fishing boats, tugs and even larger freighters and tankers were left in the harbor, making for a very strange sight. Seeing this surprising, large collection of half sunk, rusting, and abandoned boats and ships in the center of this city’s working harbor raised a number of questions. Who abandoned them and why? How long have they been here? What is anybody doing about them?
Abandoned boats are not a problem unique to Uruguay and you’ll often encounter ships wrecked along a coast, unable to be moved or salvaged. Even in the U.S. you’ll find abandoned boats usually left on remote and rarely used channels or in out of the way bays. I’ve never come across such a large number anywhere else before.
A little research turned up an article dated 17 June 2015 estimating the number of derelicts in Uruguay at fifty being abandoned by their owners because of debts or liens. It indicated that a plan has been developed that will re-float the boats and have them taken away. The Uruguayan National Port Administration will be in charge of the program.
17 June 2015
Uruguayan gov’t to remove 50 abandoned ships from port of Montevideo
News From Agencia EFF
The owners of 25 percent of the ships still pay taxes as if they were in operation, but the vessels are deemed “abandoned” since “they have not moved from the spot where they are for many years”.
Another reason to remove the vessels is due to the debts or liens associated with them. Officials do not see the abandoned ships as a problem for operations in Uruguay’s main port, but the derelict vessels could be obstacles in the future.
The ships might be acquired either by the government or private companies interested in the salvage value. The fishing boats, freighters and tugboats do not have much market value since most of them are big and old, but they could be sold for scrap.
Unfortunately many of the abandoned ships contain large amounts of concrete, timber and insulation, all materials that are difficult to clean up.
When we were there in January of 2019 and I counted thirty three boats so maybe they have made some progress in the last three years but Montevideo still has a long way to go.