Environment Minister confirms presence of asbestos following Greenpeace action

Press release - 9 May, 2002

Action against old ship at Turkish shipbreaking yard

Turkish Minister of Environment, Fevzi Aytekin, has today notified all relevant authorities that Turkey must not allow the French toxic ship for scrap "Sea Beirut" to enter the country. He has also said the vessel should return to France (1).

The vessel was illegally exported from France to Turkey to be scrapped at Aliaga, one of Turkey's notorious ship breaking yards, with dangerous toxic waste on board.

Greenpeace had been tracking the vessel because it was concerned France may be attempting to illegally dump toxic waste in Turkey, exposing its people and environment to some of the most dangerous substances known to science.

Greenpeace activists intercepted the vessel as it neared Turkish shores last Saturday, and warned the Turkish authorities that it contained toxic waste. Greenpeace was critical of the Turkish Ministry of Environment for failing to control the vessels regularly entering Turkey for scrap with toxic waste on board, despite a national ban. Following the Greenpeace action, the Turkish Ministry of Environment responded by taking samples of some of the hazardous materials found on the ship. This morning it confirmed that the vessel is carrying asbestos, as Greenpeace had suspected, and should return to France. (2)

"The French authorities should have stopped this illegal trade before the vessel left French shores. Now they must ensure the vessel and all its hazardous cargo is safely returned to France and hold those responsible for this illegal attempt to dump toxic waste in Turkey criminally accountable," said Greenpeace campaigner Erdem Vardar.(3)

Greenpeace discovered that the owner of the 'Sea Beirut' abandoned the vessel in France after refusing to pay the necessary 40,000 Euros required to clean it of asbestos. The vessel was then sold to a Turkish shipbreaker, Cemsan, by the Dunkirk port authorities in France without notifying the Turkish authorities of the toxic materials on board.

Up to a hundred ships are scrapped in Turkey every year. At least 50 percent of them come from Western European shipping companies. The costs for dismantling toxic ships in Turkey are lower than in Europe because not even basic requirements for the protection of people and the environment are met at ship breaking yards such as Aliaga where ship breaking practices are comparable to those in China, India and Bangladesh. Greenpeace is not against scrapping of vessels but wants to ensure that their export is not used as an excuse to dump toxic waste.

"This case shows that the Turkish Ministry of Environment has been ignoring all the toxic waste that's illegally entering Turkey through the shipbreaking yards in Aliaga. It also clearly demonstrates the need for the shipping industry to be held responsible for cleaning vessels of hazardous substances before they are exported," added Vardar.

Greenpeace is demanding that toxic ships for scrap are recognised as a form of hazardous waste trade by all world governments and that international regulations with a strong liability regime are enforced. As a first step, ship owners must be required to conduct an inventory of all hazardous substances on board their ships for scrap and clean them before they are exported.

World governments are meeting on May 21st to 28th 2002 in Geneva to discuss this issue.

Notes: (1) Copies of the Minister's letter, in which he makes these statements, can be obtained on request. He is expected to make a public announcement later today.(2) Asbestos was often used in ships because of the non-burning quality, insulation power and because it is chemically neutral. During the breaking of ships, asbestos is released. Even low concentrations of asbestos dust cause the formation of scar-like tissues resulting in permanent breathing difficulties (asbestosis). It is also carcinogenic.(3) The Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes is an international convention under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme. Turkey has become a party to the Basel Convention on December 20th 1994. With the national Regulation to Control Hazardous Wastes (27.08.1995 no 22387), Turkey banned the importation of hazardous waste in 1995. Under this Regulation, the import of ships-for-scrap containing hazardous waste is also considered a hazardous waste.The export of hazardous waste outside the EU should be notified based on the European Council Regulation (EEC) no 259/93 of 1 February 1993 on the supervision and control of shipments of waste within, into and out of the European Community. France is party to this regulation, which also demands that permission to send such a vessel to Turkey must be sought.