Micronesia wants Japanese help to avert an environmental disaster as Imperial Navy ships destroyed during World War II break up and leak oil in a tropical lagoon.
Hundreds of shipwrecks from the Second World War are threatening to cause oil spills similar in scale to the Exxon Valdez disaster. Scientists with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme believe that there are about 1,080 wrecks from the war lying on the floor of the Pacific, including a number of oil tankers (most burnt their cargo when torpedoed yet a number just sank and most have been intact for over 60 years)
A sunken oil tanker, one of dozens on the bottom of Micronesia's Chuuk Lagoon, is releasing streams of purple diesel bubbles. On 31 July 2008, the resulting oil slick was 5 kilometres long.
One of the world's leading experts on underwater corrosion says the tankers will begin breaking up within a few years and they have the potential to create a spill on a massive scale, comparable with last year's Gulf of Mexico disaster.
Investigators were told from the start that the wrecks occasionally leaked fuel, which at times washed up on local islands, polluting mangroves. It was originally thought that the leaks were of aviation fuel – some of the sunken ships carried thin drums of fuel to supply Japanese fighter planes in the region.
Most of the aviation fuel has probably now dissipated into the environment. But three of the 52 wrecks were oil tankers, with a total capacity to carry 32 million litres of fuel – three quarters of what catastrophically leaked from the Exxon Valdez in 1989.
This could have a devastating effect on the marine environment and negatively impact Chuuk's tourist industry.
—Dr. Bill Jeffery from James Cook University