President Chirac orders take back of toxic ship Clemenceau

France finally accepts responsibility for its toxic mess

Feature story - February 16, 2006
French President Chirac has announced a dramatic recall of the asbestos-laden warship Clemenceau -- it will be turning around and going back to France. Our actions, emails to Chirac and an embarrassing international scandal left France with little choice but to abandon the misguided attempt to dump its own toxic mess on India.

French plans to dump the toxic laden warship were finally scuppered by protests in France, India and an embrassing international scandal.

Greenpeace celebrated President Jacques Chirac's decision to call back the decommissioned toxic aircraft carrier, the Clemenceau, to France from its journey to the ship-breaking yards in Alang, India.

The ship left France on December 31, 2005, under a huge cloud of controversy after Greenpeace and other organisations launched a campaign to stop the Clemenceau's export to India to be broken up because it contains a toxic cocktail of asbestos, PCBs and heavy metals. Greenpeace

declared that the quantities of hazardous wastes still on board deemed the shipment as illegal trade under the Basel Convention - the international treaty that prohibits the export of toxic wastes from developed nations to non-OECD countries.

"This is a huge victory for the environment, and for the campaign headed up by Greenpeace and other organisations," said Pascal Husting, Greenpeace France Executive Director. "In today's globalised world it is vital that nations, such as France and India, co-operate to uphold global justice and not shamelessly pass on their responsibility to those in vulnerable areas of the planet".

Yesterday, the government representative on the Council of State - the French Supreme Court - recommended the suspension of the transfer of the Clemenceau to India, pointing out the possibility that European law may have been violated. President Chirac announced the final decision to retrieve the aircraft carrier earlier today. Greenpeace also welcomes Chirac's announcement that France will work with its partners to develop a European infrastructure for decontaminating decommissioned ships in Europe before eventually sending them for scrapping to Asia.

The Clemenceau was one of the largest ships to be sent for scrap but every year a vast decrepit armada bearing a dangerous cargo of toxic substances including asbestos, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and heavy metals, ends up in Asian ship breaking yards where they are cut up using the crudest of methods - taking a huge toll on human health and the local environment.

"The Clemenceau became the icon of toxic trade abuse between the developed world and developing countries," said Martin Besieux, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner, "With President Chirac's decision it now becomes a sign of how Governments, when pressurized by public opinion, can take corrective action."

Asia's major shipbreaking yards are located in Bangladesh, India, China and Pakistan. But smaller shipbreaking industries such as those in the Philippines should also be mindful of the potential toxic hazards of the practice.

"The Philippine government should learn from this episode especially in terms of ensuring that ships imported into the country for dismantling are free from hazardous materials," said Von Hernandez, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Campaigns Director .

Greenpeace has been campaigning against the continued dumping of hazardous waste into the country especially from industrialized nations. "This incident should set a precedent not just for ship-breaking, but for all toxic trade. Instead of encouraging more hazardous waste imports, the Philippine government should clearly reject initiatives to use our shores as dumping grounds for the effluent of the affluent," Hernandez added.

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organisation that uses non-violent creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems to force solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.


Pascal Husting, Executive Director, Greenpeace France, +33 673 892 319

Martin Besieux, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner, +32 496 161 585

Ramapati Kumar, Greenpeace India Toxics Campaigner, +91 98 455 35 414

Vivek Sharma, Greenpeace India Communications, +91 934 378 8424

Mhairi Dunlop, Greenpeace International Communications, +44 7801 212 960

Von Hernandez, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Campaigns Director, +63 917 5263050

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