Phosphoric acid (H3PO4) is harmful to marine life, even in small quantities. The main risk is the change in pH it causes, which can lead to the death of marine organisms. It is corrosive and either inhaling or coming into contact with it can cause damage to the eyes, skin, throat, lungs and gastrointestinal tract. As it is a phosphate, it can result in the eutrophication of aquatic media.
However, it is a relatively “weak” acid and rarely causes long-term effects, so it tends to be used in water treatment and in soft drinks.
The possibility of pollution at sea is generally limited to the area where the spillage has taken place and, if the amount is not very large, it does not have a serious environmental impact, although it does have a local effect.
It is mainly used in the production of fertilisers and detergents, although it also has some uses in the soft-drink industry.
Besides the danger of the cargo, the sinking of any ship represents an additional threatening due to the existence of other pollutants such as fuel, oil and other toxic substances that could be spilled into the marine ecosystem.
The ECE is an 18-year-old chemical tanker that was built in 1988 at the IZAR shipyards in Sestao. Up until 2001 it went under the name SAN MATEO. It belongs to the Turkish company Sirena Marine, but the vessel is managed by Aksay Denizcilik ve Ticaret A.S., also Turkish.
This chemical tanker is internationally recognised as a “safe” ship and has not shown deficiencies at the latest inspections carried out on it. The company that manages the ship also operates another twelve chemical tankers and as none of them have been detained in recent years it is licensed to operate in Europe, America and Asia.
“The accident of a vessel carrying hazardous materials is always a threat to the marine environment. In this case, the cargo is not excessively harmful, but it adds more pollution to an area that is already the recipient of millions of tonnes of toxic spillages every year,” says Xavier Pastor, Director of Oceana Europe.