She once was the star of the French Navy. Now, after more than two years of legal farce and political tragedy, after a vain voyage of thousands of miles as an unwanted ghost ship, the former aircraft carrier The Clemenceau has now been ordered to turn around and head back to France.
Woman filtering asbestos into powder in workshop outside the shipbreaking yards.
Like hundreds of other similar ships nearing the end of their
workinglives, The Clemenceau contains a deadly cocktail of toxic
materials -asbestos, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and heavy
metals. She wasdestined to be dismantled in India's
Alang shipbreaking yard under verypoor environmental and
working conditions. Every year,
dozens ofworkers die or are injured in horrific industrial
accidents in these'dumping grounds' of the world. Others suffer
from fatal anddebilitating diseases such as cancers, caused by
working virtuallyunprotected amidst the toxic substances with which
the ships are laden.In France, as in any other developed country,
these working conditionswould be outlawed, and those suffering from
occupational-relatedmedical conditions would be compensated. In
Alang, those workers whoare dying as a result of these terrible
working conditions are not evenregistered.
It is a sad reflection of the state of our world that those
workerstaken on by the ship-breaking yards of India and elsewhere
in thedeveloping world are so economically disempowered that they
are forcedto put their lives at risk to work in such conditions.
What is evensadder is that developed nations such as France are
prepared to sendtoxic wrecks across the world to have them
dismantled cheaply, knowingthe deadly contents of these ships and
their likely environmental andhuman impact.
Throughout the futile last voyage of the Clemenceau, we have
kept upthe pressure on both French and Indian governments, through
dialogueand direct action. Our protestors have boarded the ship and
chainedthemselves to the vessel's mast.
In India, our campaigners engaged withministers, the Supreme
Court and unions, and also took to the streetsto protest. Were it
not for this kind of international pressure, theClemenceau would
still be quietly continuing to the ship-breaking yardsof Alang to
be disposed of on the cheap.
The decision by the French government to recall the Clemenceau
was nota result of a sudden realisation of moral responsibility, or
an act ofenvironmental altruism. They were forced to recall the
Clemenceaubecause its export to India is illegal under the Basel
convention.Established in 1989 by 177 countries, including France
and India, theconvention promised to protect the environment and
citizens ofdeveloping countries by banning the export of hazardous
waste to placesthat are not able to manage them properly. We are
not against thedivision of labour in the global market - industries
such asship-breaking offer a vital income to hundreds of thousands
of workersthroughout the world. Indeed, dismantling and re-using
ships is anexample of recycling on a grand scale - it should
and must beencouraged.
This case is an example of a problem that the whole world needs
toface. There are thousands of ships like the Clemenceau laden with
evengreater amounts of deadly toxic materials, awaiting break-up.
But it isnot just a problem for the ship-breaking industry.
Hundreds of millionsof everyday products - from mobile phones to
computers and TVs -containing a huge range of toxic substances, are
dumped inmassive quantities on communities who have no other
economic choicethan to put themselves and their environment at risk
by dismantling andrecycling them. Every time someone in the
developed world throws away amobile phone, computer or TV they are
expecting someone else to cleanup the mess, irrespective of the
real human and environmental cost -millions of 'mini Clemenceaus'
are happening every day.
All manufacturing industries - from ship-building to electronics
andconsumer goods - must now be held responsible for removing the
toxinsin their products. They cannot be allowed to dodge their
moral andenvironmental responsibility to put profit first and
simply allowingtheir toxic waste to be dumped on the cheap refuse
sites of the world.
If there is one thing we should learn from the case of the
Clemenceauit is that we must continue the fight
against toxins in ourenvironment, whether it is a warship or a
mobile phone. Otherwise werun the risk of finally winning the
battle to persuade the world torecycle what it uses and discards,
only to poison our environment withthe by-products.
Executive Director, Greenpeace International