Victory: Toxic warship Clemenceau turned back to France!

France finally accepts responsibility for its toxic mess

Feature story - February 15, 2006
French President Chirac has announced a dramatic recall of the asbestos-laden warship Clemenceau -- it will be turning around and going back to France. Our actions, emails to Chirac and an embarrassing international scandal left France with little choice but to abandon the misguided attempt to dump its own toxic mess on India.

The toxic warship Clemenceau returns to France , setting a new precedent for developed countries to take action against dumping their toxic and other waste in developing countries

"This is a huge victory for the environment, and for the campaign headed up by us and other organisations" said Pascal Husting, Greenpeace France Executive Director.

Back in December we highlighted France's attempts to dump an old warship leaden with toxics like deadly asbestos on India. France didn't want to deal with its own toxic mess - despite our actions to block the departure of the Clemenceau from the French port of Toulon. We said it was wrong for France to dump a 27,000-ton warship full of asbestos, PCBs, lead, mercury, and other toxic chemicals in India to be broken up by hand in a scrapyard where impoverished workers are injured and die every day. France insisted it was right and sent the ship to India anyway.

We weren't going to let them off that easily. In January we reboarded the warship in the Mediterranean and called on Egypt to block the passage of the ship. The French government intervened at the highest level to ensure the ship could continue to head to the ship-breaking beaches of India.   

Meanwhile in India there was a growing media and public scandal surrounding the Indian Government permitting France to dump a ship full of hazardous waste in India. Indian courts ordered the warship to stay out of Indian waters pending a final ruling. Still France kept the asbestos ship steaming towards India.

As the Indian Government dithered and the French Government stubbornly insisted on the dumping plan, media interest intensified and levels of public anger in India and France increased with every day the ship continued to steam towards India.

Chirac was due to visit India on Febuary 20.  Today he announced that the warship would be turned around and head back to France.

The case of the Clemenceau has become a symbol of the moral injustice of rich countries dumping their toxic waste on poorer countries. Having tried and failed to offload the ship to other countries to avoid responsibility for the toxic mess of its own making, France has finally been forced to clean up its own act.

While we savour this victory and the return of the Clemenceau to France it is just a poster child of a wider problem. Every year a vast decrepit armada bearing a dangerous cargo of toxic substances, asbestos, PCBs and heavy metals, ends up in ship breaking yards in Bangladesh, India, China and Pakistan, where they are cut up in the crudest of fashions, taking a huge toll on human health and the local environment. Ship breaking is one of the most visible forms of the trade in toxic waste that ends up dumped in developing countries

We believe that rich governments should look at the precedent of the Clemenceau case and take action to stop the dumping of toxic waste in all forms on poor countries. Only effective action will prevent another Clemenceau-style scandal.


Background information on shipbreaking and the solutions to the problem.


Help us continue to expose environmental crimes around the world.