Obsolete vessels from the US National Defense Reserve Fleet, or ghost fleet, anchored in the James River, near Norfol, VA. Thirteen of the vessels contain toxic materials and are slated to be towed to the UK for shipbreaking.
The "Canisteo" and "Caloosahatchee" were both built in 1945.
They are contaminated with banned, cancer-causing polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, and marine diesel oil. They are part of
a fleet that was to be towed across the Atlantic in stages to a UK
dry dock in Teeside for dismantling. The ships have been laid up
for years on the James River, subject to a ban laid down during the
Clinton Administration which took a strict interpretation of
international law on exporting toxic waste from the US. The Bush
took a different view.
The export of these ships has met criticism on both sides of the
Atlantic, and sparked deep concerns that the US is simply testing
the waters of opposition. The disposal of the 'ghost fleet' is a
pilot project: if the export of these vessels is not challenged,
more rusting old ships will leave the US with cocktails of
hazardous substances still on board. Their destiny could be the UK,
but could just as well be India, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan or
Toxic? Send it far, far away.
Belatedly, the tow ships have now been denied permission to dock
by the UK environment agency. The decision adds to the pressure
that shipowners, including the US government, should be cleaning up
ships before they are exported for breaking. Every year 600 ships
like these are exported to Asian countries for breaking without
The future of these two former US navy ships is now unclear.
Local outrage, increasing media coverage and pressure from
activists have forced UK authorities to look closer at plans for
scrapping what the EU classes as hazardous waste.
It is unacceptable that the US is allowed to dump its toxic
waste on the UK, despite the fact that the actual conditions under
which the ships will be scrapped are far more advanced those which
are employed on the majority of ships. The unfortunate irony is
that this example has provoked protests and a government reaction,
but there is little outrage that the UK and other nations send
hundreds of similar ships every year to the Indian subcontinent for
scrapping. That practice goes largely unnoticed and
These ships should never have been sent to the UK for disposal.
We oppose the export/import of hazardous materials for disposal and
believe that hazardous materials should be dealt with in the
country of origin, as long as suitable facilities can be provided
to ensure safe disposal. The US Maritime Administration's ships
clearly contain hazardous materials and the US is clearly a country
that is capable of dealing with its own waste.
The UK government should now act to ensure that no further ships
are sent from the US to the UK. Secondly they should urgently
determine what is the best environmental solution for dealing with
the ships that have already arrived.
Millions of dollars, thousands of lives.
25-30 years, many ships are at the end of their sailing life. These
ships are sold and dismantled to recover valuable steel. But the
ships also contain large amounts of hazardous materials. In the
1970s shipbreaking was concentrated in Europe. Performed at docks,
it was a highly mechanised industrial operation. But the costs of
upholding environmental, health and safety standards increased and
the industry moved to poorer Asian states. Once-pristine beaches of
India, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan and Turkey are now littered with
ships and pollution. Workers there scrap the ships without any
protection. Oil, PCBs and other wastes are dumped in the sea.
Workers remove deadly asbestos by hand. Only the ship owners'
profit from the lack of safety and environmental safe guards. They
extract an average US$ 1.9m profit per ship. In India alone, one
worker a day, on average, dies in the shipbreaking industry.
This the reality for the vast majority of old ships from the UK
and other developed states - the toxic waste is dumped on Asia. The
sight of an old, toxic rust-bucket approaching a rich country's
shores has raised alarm bells -- but the same governments turn a
blind eye if they head to far-off Asian shores.
We are campaigning to change this. International law states that
hazardous waste must be disposed of in the country of origin and
not dumped in other countries. The breaking of ships in Asia is
toxic dumping in disguise -- but countries such as the UK and US
are happy to ignore international law because it suits their
shipping industries. The US has not even signed the relevant
All ships being sold for scrap must be cleaned of hazardous
material before being sold. This ensures the country that created
the pollution has to clean it up. It also provides an incentive for
countries to buy cleaner ships which require less cleaning before
scrapping in the future. The UK should not need to clean up waste
from the US but workers and the environment in countries like
India, Bangladesh and China shouldn't have to deal with waste from
rich countries either.
shipbreaking in Asia.
the Shipbreaking game.
We have selected 50 ships which might be scrapped soon. We have
asked the owners of these ships to declare that their ships will be
decontaminated before scrapping in Asian countries. Until that time
we will follow and monitor these (and other) ships.
We need YOUR help to spot
these ships and identify other ships that are in danger of
sailing towards the beaches of Asia without being