Turkey rejects toxic ship; forces France to clean up

Feature story - 15 November, 2002
Every year, hundreds of sea vessels retire to the once clean beaches of Asia. In addition to their valuable steel, these old ships often contain hazardous substances that place their workers and the environment in danger. Despite agreement under the Basel Convention requiring every country to take responsibility for its own waste, the French toxic ship "Sea Beirut" attempted to enter Turkey illegally. A new court decision now forces the French government to take back the ship and clean it up before re-exporting it for scrap.

Six Greenpeace activists climb onto the European cargo ship 'SEA BEIRUT' as it tries illegally to enter a Turkish shipbreaking yard on the 4th May 2002

The Turkish court ordered CEMSAN, the importing company, to ensure that the ship be returned to the country of origin. "Until now, the French government has been refusing to take the toxic ship back and as a consequence the ship has been beached at the Aliaga shipbreaking yards ever since," said Yannick Vicaire, Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner in France. CEMSAN had asked the court to suspend the Turkish Ministerial decision of May 2002 but the Turkish administrative court rejected this request.

Last May, we intercepted the "Sea Beirut" as it neared Aliaga shipbreaking yards in Turkey out of concern that the ship contained hazardous waste, such as asbestos. We alerted the Turkish authorities and warned that this was a case of illegal waste trade as defined by Turkish legislation. This led to the court's decision to return the ship for cleaning to France, after the Turkish Ministry of Environment conducted its own investigations that confirmed the "Sea Beirut" contains hazardous wastes.

This case illustrates the urgent need for the new international ship recycling regulations which are on the agenda of several United Nations institutions. The shipping industry refuses to accept the Basel Convention, which banned all toxic waste transfers to developing countries, for their scrapped vessels for purely financial reasons. In order to protect themselves, shipbreaking countries must systematically demand an inventory of all hazardous substances on board all ships for scrap before ships are exported.

We are calling on attendees to the Basel Convention Conference of the Parties (COP6) meeting in Geneva on December 9 to agree on a final clarification of the legal status of toxic ships for scrap. Through that clarification, the shipping industry should no longer be able to use Turkey and other Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and China as their dumping ground for toxic materials.

Are you connected to the shipping industry, a shipspotter, a harbourmaster, a crew member, or in any other way able to localize the positions of ships? We need your help!