U.S. Navy Ship Sinking Exercise Resumes—Healthy Ocean First Casualty

Conservation groups challenge Navy for dumping old, toxic ships into ocean


Amanda Goodin, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1020


Colby Self, Basel Action Network, (206) 250-5652


Robert Harris, Sierra Club, (808) 538-6616


Emily Jeffers, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5409

Today, a coalition of conservation groups filed a complaint challenging the government’s ongoing failure to adequately regulate a federal ship sinking program that resumed over the summer. The program, called SINKEX, short for “sinking exercise,” is a taxpayer-funded target practice drill that pollutes the sea with highly toxic chemicals.

A Florida study supports the conclusion that PCBs, dumped during ship sinking exercises, are leaching from the sunken vessels and entering the marine food chain (Bill Horn / FWC.)

Over the summer, three inactive vessels were sent to a watery grave off Hawaiʻi during the Rim of the Pacific Naval Exercises, or RIMPAC. It was the first time since 2010 the Navy used target practice to dispose of old ships. A fourth vessel is slated for sinking as part of the SINKEX program later this year. The military quietly lifted a moratorium on SINKEX last year.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the Basel Action Network, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed the supplemental complaint in U.S. District Court of Northern California.

“It’s time for EPA to make the Navy clean up its act,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice. “The EPA is legally required to keep dangerous chemicals like PCB’s out of our oceans.”

The complaint filed today is a supplement to a lawsuit filed in July 2011. The suit claims EPA fails to adequately regulate the ocean dumping of toxic PCBs, (polychlorinated biphenyls), a group of chemicals that are highly toxic and dangerous to human health and wildlife. PCBs are contained in the obsolete ships used by the U.S. Navy for ship sinking exercises.

“Our precious marine resources are at risk due to ocean dumping of poisons from SINKEX drills,” said Colby Self of the Basel Action Network. “This arcane target practice squanders resources that could otherwise be recycled, eliminates green recycling jobs that could boost local economies and poses great risk to the marine environment.”

New data from a study in Florida supports the conclusion that PCBs, dumped during ship sinking exercises, are leaching from the sunken vessels and are entering the marine food chain.

“Protection of our nation includes protection of our precious ocean environment,” said Robert Harris of the Sierra Club. “The sinking of ships containing untold tons of pollutants must stop!”

“Our oceans should never be used as a dump for poison,” said Emily Jeffers of the Center for Biological Diversity. “PCBs are some of the most dangerous pollutants around. Ship-sinking war games send toxic chemicals into our fragile marine environment and needlessly deprive the U.S. ship recycling industry of jobs and resources.”

The lawsuit claims SINKEX operations violate the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA must initiate rules to regulate the marine disposal of PCBs during ship sinking exercises to protect human health and the environment against an unreasonable risk of injury.

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.