US Rules Fuelled Toxic ''Ghost Ships''
November 11, 2003
Bush administration's relaxation of U.S. environmental regulations enabled the
four rusty World War II-era ships that were the subject of a UK High Court
ruling Wednesday to set sail for Britain to be turned into scrap.
High Court judge in London granted a temporary injunction requested by Friends
of the Earth (FoE) forbidding a British company from dismantling the ships
until a full hearing can be held next month.
the ships lack official permission to enter British ports, the FoE and other
environmental groups are calling for them to return to the United States at the
earliest possible date.
Environment Agency (EA) announced last week that permits issued to the British
firm Able UK to import and dismantle the four ships, plus nine others that are
mothballed on the James River in southern Virginia, were invalid. The EA did
not contest FoE's action and has also urged that the ships be returned.
the UK government and its agencies don't secure their immediate return,''
warned FoE UK Director Tony Juniper on Tuesday, ''then these toxic time bombs
could be sitting off our coast within days, threatening our environment
groups on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Sierra Club, Earthjustice
and the Basel Action Network (BAN), have been protesting the scheme to sail the
ships, which are laden with thousands of tons of toxic materials -- including
PCBs, asbestos and contaminated fuel oils -- across the ocean for dismantling,
particularly when ship recyclers in the United States could do the job.
U.S. recyclers have asked Congress why their bids to dismantle the ships were
rejected or ignored, and Congress' General Accounting Office (GAO) has agreed
have the technology right here in Virginia to recycle the ships in the Ghost
Fleet safely,'' said Michael Town, director of the Sierra Club's Virginia
chapter Tuesday. ”This is another example of the Bush administration trying to
make an end run around the public,” he added in a statement.
President Bill Clinton outlawed the sale of mothballed ships for scrap overseas
both because of the environmental hazards they posed to ocean waters and
because of growing public concern that toxic wastes were being shipped to
developing countries where workers were inadequately protected from exposure to
the administration of President George W. Bush won a waiver from its
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to send the ships overseas.
case of the four U.S. ships highlights a growing problem, as governments try to
dispose of decommissioned naval vessels, many of which are highly toxic.
another case, a French aircraft carrier, the Clemenceau, is currently anchored
off Sicily awaiting resolution of a number of disputes arising from a contract
by a Spanish salvaging company to dismantle it.
French reconnaissance planes found the ship under tow, apparently bound for
Turkey, it rescinded the contract, according to the 'Financial Times'
newspaper. The French government had stipulated that the asbestos on the ship
had to be removed within the European Union (EU).
13 U.S. ships are part of the ''Ghost Fleet'' under the jurisdiction of the
United States Maritime Administration (MARAD). Two of the four ships that are
currently underway are due to enter British waters Friday if they are not
ordered home before then.
EA originally granted Able UK a modification to its waste-management license to
carry out the work in September but then last week declared it ''invalid''
after FoE started legal proceedings.
merely declaring it ''invalid'' will not necessarily stop the ships from
docking in Britain, which is why the group went to court to have the ruling
formally revoked or quashed.
major problem with the scheme surfaced when it turned out that a promised
10-hectare dry-dock facility where the work was to be performed does not exist,
something the environmental groups have been warning about for weeks.
groups went to court to get an injunction blocking the export of the ships in
late September. They argued, among other things, that the scheme violated a
provision in the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act that barred the export of
PCBs in the absence of a waiver granted only through a rulemaking procedure
that included public input.
U.S. judge in the case issued a temporary restraining order blocking nine of
the 13 ships, but allowing the four now underway to sail.
groups said they are concerned that these ships represent just the ''tip of a
toxic iceberg'' of more than 150 toxic and mothballed ships that are rusting in
U.S. waters, and that the Bush administration plans to send the rest to
developing countries, such as India and China, which have lower environmental
and worker-protection standards.
is the Bush administration ignoring U.S. environmental laws when domestic ship
breakers could handle these toxic ships safely and economically''? asked Martin
Wagner, an Earthjustice attorney on Tuesday.
circumvention of the PCB export ban could set a particularly dangerous
precedent, he added, in a statement.