Highest Dutch court calls ship 'toxic waste'

Victory as ship is forbidden to proceed to Indian shipbreaking yard

Feature story - 19 June, 2002
Today the highest court in the Netherlands ruled that a ship containing asbestos, heavy metals and other toxic material should be classified as toxic waste.

Greenpeace activists blocking ship containing toxic asbestos as it enters shipbreaking yard.

The vessel will not be allowed to proceed to Asia to be scrapped, preventing it from causing harm to both people and the environment at an Indian shipbreaking yard.

The decision is important because it is the first ever legal recognition that a ship containing asbestos must be treated as hazardous waste. It sets a precedent that in the future ships must be cleaned of toxic materials before being sent to shipbreaking yards.

"This ruling sets an important precedent for the future of dealing with scrap ships," said Mariëtta Harjono, Greenpeace campaigner. "The verdict on the Sandrien will bring international legislation on scrap ships a little bit closer."

The vessel, named the Sandrien, has been detained in Amsterdam since February 2001. A solution is quickly needed for the Sandrien and her crew. The ship owner who abandoned his responsibility towards his employees will likely never be seen again. The stranded crew are still waiting for overdue wages, and for repatriation to India.

Every year hundreds of ships are sent to India for scrapping. This work is done under miserable conditions and without proper equipment. But this number will increase in the next few years because all single-hull oil tankers must stop trading before 2015. International legislation is urgently needed to ensure that scrap ships are stripped of all toxic material before they may be exported to breakers' yards in Asia.