Locals say the toxic material was dumped just off the coast of Rarotonga after New Zealand refused to help get rid of it.
New Zealand denies any involvement.
Environmentalist Ian Karaka says tourists visit the region because it is a pristine environment but for more than two years the vessel has held unwanted asbestos removed from local schools and government buildings.
Of late, its been leaking.
"We asked Australia and New Zealand for help with the disposal...and they have done that but as far as this particular chemical they both don't want it back," says Tangata Vavia, Minister of the Cook Island Investment Corporation.
However, no sooner had the government rushed to okay the dump and scuttling last week that countless truck loads of asbestos wrapped in black plastic were taken from Cook Islands Investment Corporation stockpiles around the island to the wharf for loading on to Miss Mataroa.
The entire episode was done without any public consultation, without disclosure of how maritime and legal issues have been dealt with and without any proactive communication.
Several months ago, an expert from one of the United Nations agencies regarding the safe disposal of asbestos visited the Cook Islands.
At the time, the relevant Minister and various departmental heads including Ministry of Works, Energy, and Physical Planning, and Cook Islands Investment Corporation, showed him the Recycle Cook Islands complex in Ngatangiia where the asbestos was being temporarily being held.
The plan as told to the visiting consultant was for the asbestos to be wrapped and then buried in a suitable watertight site.
Obviously someone decided otherwise.
Concern for the Pacific centers around whether the scuttling of the Miss Mataroa could open the flood gates as a cheap option to get rid of unwanted waste.
The Cook Island News put it this way:
"The sinking, by government, of the asbestos laden ship, will become an epic Pacific story akin to the drama of nuclear testing. Only time will tell if, on another day in the future, history and the rest of the world will appreciate the significance of this first South Pacific scuttling of a ship containing asbestos waste."
The following is from Pacific Magazine.
Cook Islands Defends Asbestos Dumping Decision
A Cook Islands government department has defended the decision to dump asbestos laden building materials in the ocean reports Radio Australia.
The dumping has been condemned locally, with local environmentalist Ian Karaka telling Radio New Zealand International that tourists visit the region because it is a pristine environment but for more than two years the vessel has held unwanted asbestos removed from local schools and government buildings.
The ship Miss Mataroa was filled with 300 tonnes of cement sheeting, containing asbestos and scuttled five nautical miles off the Cook Islands.
It's now 4000 metres below sea level.
The Legal Manager for the Cook Islands Investment Corporation, Lloyd Miles says the dumping was legal.
"Under the London Convention, there are six exceptions to dumping of industrial waste and one of them is uncontaminated, inert geological material and we believe this fell under that exception."