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US Navy discharges human waste into the world's most pristine waters

US Navy

(NaturalNews) The U.S. military is subject to both domestic and international environmental laws, but according to a new report, the Navy has routinely violated them in an area of pristine waters in the Indian Ocean near a base owned by the British government.

According to Britain's The Independent newspaper, the U.S. military has dumped hundreds of tons of human waste and sewage into protected coral lagoon areas surrounding the Diego Garcia military base over a span of about 30 years.

The base, located on the Chagos Islands, is one of the most remote in the world, as well as one of the most controversial; British troops forcibly removed scores of islanders from there in the early 1970s, during the peak of the Cold War. The base has been used by the U.S. military for a number of strategic air missions. Also, nuclear-armed submarines have used the base for staging.

As reported by The Independent:

The British government has repeatedly underlined its commitment to maintaining the pristine environment of the islands, which are known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and were four years ago declared the world's largest marine reserve.

Despite these undertakings, it has emerged that U.S. navy vessels have been discharging waste water, including treated sewage, into the clear lagoon ever since a naval support station was established on Diego Garcia in the early 1980s.

Double standards

The paper said that, according to scientific experts, raised levels of nutrients caused by the waste, which have led to increased nitrogen and phosphate levels four times the norm, could be damaging the coral.

Critics of the British base who are fighting for the islanders' return have accused London and Washington of employing double standards, claiming the unspoiled character of the archipelago is the reason why they cannot be allowed back, while at the same time spoiling the region with human waste.

"While the people who were born and bred on Chagos are not allowed to return to their island, the military base of Diego Garcia houses about 5,000 US servicemen and women and ancillary workers," Philippa Gregory, author and patron of the UK Chagos Support Association, told the paper. "It makes no sense to suggest that Chagossians cannot return because of pressure on the environment."

The tiny island atoll is one of the most important of U.S. military strategic assets. It has been used as a staging base for a number of recent U.S. military actions, as well as a base of support for Air Force missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was also used for a pair of CIA-sponsored "extraordinary rendition" flights that carried terrorist suspects in 2002.

Information about the waste-dumping came to light last year, the paper said, but has only recently become public after the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office filed written testimony with Parliament.

Hundreds of tons of waste over the years

"In April last year it came to our attention that the US vessels moored in the lagoon had been discharging waste water into the lagoon since the establishment of the naval support station there in the early 1980s," wrote foreign office minister Mark Simmonds. "This waste water is treated sewage, and water left over from routine processes like cleaning and cooking."

Simmonds further conceded that the waste was being dumped into the lagoon in violation of British "policy," and that the dumping could be harming the local ecosystems and coral, the latter of which is protected under the intergovernmental Ramsar Convention on wetlands.

Officials say they don't know how much waste has been dumped over the years, but they estimate that a large naval vessel can create several tons of waste and sewage per day. Extrapolating that amount over three decades means the total tonnage is likely massive.

"Our policy has consistently been that any form of discharge of these substances into the lagoon is prohibited because of clear scientific advice that it would be damaging to coral in the long term. That advice has not changed, and nor has our policy," said Simmonds. "UK scientists concluded that, based on available data, there were elevated levels of nutrients in the lagoon which could be damaging to coral."

British government officials have said that "stringent environmental legislation" is in place to protect the ecosystems surrounding the archipelago. Reportedly, the base is overseen by a Royal Navy commander called the British Representative, but it was not clear if any formal action had been initiated against the U.S. Navy, the paper reported.




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