What Are the Different Methods of Ship Disposal?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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Once a ship has reached the end of its usable life, it must be disposed of properly. This process of ship disposal can be done in any number of ways, though some methods are far safer and cleaner than others. Ship breaking is perhaps the most accepted method of ship disposal; this process involves breaking up the boat piece by piece so the components can be reused or recycled. Toxic components can be disposed of safely on land as well. Sometimes a ship can be repurposed, thereby allowing it to be used in another capacity rather than as a floating vessel.

Repurposed boats are often removed from the water entirely, though some may be docked permanently in the water. This is not exactly a method of ship disposal, but rather ship reuse; the boat can be used as a houseboat, a business such as a restaurant, a floating museum, office space, and many other purposes. Before a ship can be used in such ways, it must be stripped of all dangerous or toxic components that may pose a risk to inhabitants or surrounding ecosystems. Ships left in the water will have a tendency to rot or otherwise break down more quickly as well, so maintenance of the vessel will be necessary.


Hulking is a type of ship disposal that involves leaving the hull of the ship intact in the water but removing all other components necessary to make the ship functional. The hull can remain floating in the water, but it will not be possible to take that vessel to sea. This method also requires all toxic and hazardous materials to be removed from the ship, though throughout history, this has not always been done. Leaving toxic materials on board can lead to environmental issues; painted hulls often end up rotting and releasing chemicals into the water, which can damage nearby ecosystems.

Deep water sinking is a ship disposal technique often used by various militaries around the world. This process involves sinking a vessel by using it for target practice after the ship has been stripped of toxic materials and other potentially damaging equipment. Another way a ship might be disposed of by sinking is using the vessel as an artificial reef. The boat will be sunk in a strategic position, and once it is in place on the bottom of the body of water, fish and other sea creatures can use the vessel as a new habitat.

Illegal scrapping of a boat can occur as well. This happens when the owner of a ship does not remove toxic materials and other hazardous waste prior to scrapping. This practice can result in significant fines for the company and devastating environmental impact, and while the practice occurs less in modern times, it is still possible and has been common throughout history.


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