Greenpeace takes French government to court for sending toxic ship to Turkey

Press release - 17 July, 2002

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

Greenpeace took legal action against the French government today to make sure it takes back a toxic ship it illegally exported to Turkey for scrap.

Greenpeace is appealing to the French courts to suspend the decision of export, granted to the 'Sea Beirut' even though it contained hazardous asbestos. The environmental organisation has launched a separate appeal against the French maritime administration for abuse of power.

Greenpeace intercepted the "Sea Beirut" as it neared Turkey two months ago because it was concerned that France was attempting to illegally dump hazardous waste in Turkey. The environmental organisation alerted the Turkish authorities that the ship contained asbestos (1) and warned that lives and the environment would be endangered if it were scrapped. The Turkish Minister of Environment, Fevzi Aytekin, declared that the vessel must not be scrapped in Turkey and demanded that it be sent back to France. Yet France has failed to respond to Turkey's demands and the vessel has been beached at Aliaga, Turkey's notorious ship breaking yards, ever since.

"The French authorities acted illegally by allowing this toxic ship to be exported with asbestos on board (2). By refusing to scrap it, Turkey has sent a clear message to the world that it won't be used as a dumping ground for other countries' hazardous waste. As the exporting country, France is clearly liable for this ship. It must take it back and make sure its shipping industry cleans vessels of hazardous substances before they are exported for scrap in the future," said Greenpeace Campaigner Erdem Vardar in Turkey.

The 'Sea Beirut' was abandoned in France two years ago and became the responsibility of the French port authorities. The French authorities are refusing to accept liability for the ship because the ship is under Liberian flag. However, when they sold it, they illegally gave permission to its new, Turkish owner to export it even though the vessel contained asbestos. They failed to classify the vessel as hazardous waste and did not notify the Turkish authorities of the waste on board in violation of European regulations on waste trade.

On June 7th, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the French Embassy in Ankara that France must take the vessel back because Turkey has a national ban on the import of hazardous wastes. On the 17th June, France replied to the request and should have taken the toxic ship back within 30 days in line with the Basel Convention, to which both countries are parties. (3)

On June 19th, the Dutch courts gave an historical verdict in a similar case when they classified the 'Sandrien' as hazardous waste because it contains asbestos. The Dutch authorities detained the 'Sandrien' in the port of Amsterdam and prevented it being exported to India because of the hazardous materials on board.

"The 'Sandrien' was an important step towards the recognition of corporate and state accountability in the management of ships for scrap. Given that the same European rules apply to France as to the Netherlands, we would not understand a different verdict in the 'Sea Beirut' case," concluded Yannick Vicaire, Toxics campaigner in France.

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 and ship exporting countries must be required to conduct an inventory of all hazardous substances on board their ships for scrap and clean them before they are exported to the shipbreaking yards in Asia and Turkey.

Notes: (1) Asbestos was often used in ships because of the non-burning quality, isolation power and because it is chemically neutral. When ships are scrapped, asbestos is released. Even low concentrations of asbestos dust causes formation of scar-like tissues resulting in permanent breathing difficulties(asbestosis); it is also carcinogenic.(2) The Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes is an international convention under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme. Turkey became 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.(3) 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.