UK's own ghost ship found in India

Feature story - 12 November, 2003
There's outrage in the UK! The US is sending its "ghost fleet," complete with asbestos and toxic chemicals, for dismantling in England. The UK government has said the ships will have to go back. A British court has put a halt to any dismantling. Permits have been revoked. But meanwhile, in India, guess what Greenpeace's ghost-busting toxic patrol has found?

Greenpeace activists protest in front of two UK ships bound for shipbreaking in India. The export of ships containing toxic chemicals to other countries is illegal under the Basel Convention.

Greenpeace's campaign ship Rainbow Warrior has found a UK vessel, Genova Bridge, beached for scrapping at Alang, the world's largest ship scrapping yard in India. The export of the vessel constitutes an illegal shipment of hazardous waste, contravening national law in India and the Basel Convention -- an international agreement governing transboundary movements of hazardous waste.

The exposure of this clear example of double standards further complicates the "almighty muddle" of the ghost fleet issue, as one parliamentarian termed it, and the far larger issue of shipbreaking in general. If it's not OK for US waste to go to the UK, why should it be OK for UK waste to go to India?

Our answer is simple: it's about as far from OK as you can get. The British owner and the British authorities have to ensure that the toxic materials onboard of this ship will be removed safely and taken back to England for final disposal.

All ships containing toxic waste should be cleaned at their site of origin, providing adequate health and safety technologies are available locally, before being sent anywhere for shipbreaking, and particularly before being sent to developing countries.

"This is a classic case of double standards. While the UK authorities don't want US waste in their backyard, they are happy to illegally dump their own elsewhere - failing to ensure safe removal of toxic substances and safe conditions for the workers in the developing world. We demand that the UK government apply the same international rules to their illegal export of toxic ships to India, as they apply to the illegal import of the ghost fleet to the UK." said Ramapati Kumar, Shipbreaking campaigner onboard Rainbow Warrior at Alang.

Who you gonna call?

The international community has recognised that the environmental pollution from shipbreaking is a serious concern but fails to address the issue adequately. Under the Basel Convention, end-of-life ships are considered waste, meaning that their export is strictly regulated. The International Maritime Association, (IMO) the UN Agency dedicated to "cleaner seas" and "safer shipping" does not accept the notion that end-of-life ships are waste.

The IMO is largely beholden to the shipping and oil industries. Dues at the IMO are assessed by fleet tonnage, which means flag-of-convenience states such as Panama, Liberia, Cyprus, and the Bahamas are among the top contributors. Representatives of these nations regularly place the interests of the shipping and oil industries before health and safety issues, and their membership dues are reportedly sometimes paid by the industries themselves.

The IMO is not only failing to protect the environment and poor workers in shipbreaking yards, but it is also trying to expel Greenpeace from the organisation for alleged safety violations: a rich accusation coming from an organisation that has taken no action to expel those responsible for the Prestige and Exxon Valdez oil spills.

"The inability of the IMO to address this issue conclusively is no longer acceptable. When the IMO's General Assembly meets later this month, it needs to conclude that the illegal export of toxic end-of-life-ships will be stopped. Any other conclusion will show the inability of the IMO to deal with current marine and environmental issues. It should also reverse its decision to expel Greenpeace, failure to do so will be a clear demonstration that the organisation is more interested in listening to the vested interests of the shipping industry rather than the voice which is trying to ensure the protection of the environment and human lives." said Paul Horsman of Greenpeace International.

The Rainbow Warrior is in India on a Corporate Accountability tour, in a bid to expose corporations that are committing crimes against nature and humanity. The first phase of the tour is focused on the on Ship-breaking at Alang, Gujarat.

Take Action

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 decontaminated.

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