Toxic Trade News / 16 February 2006
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We will pursue case: Paris shipowners
by Sonu Jain, The Indian Express (India)
16 February 2006 (New Delhi) – Tomorrow as Clemenceau, anchored outside Indian waters, sets sail towards France, this time via the Cape of Good Hope, the ship’s owners have decided to “keep pursuing” the case in the Supreme Court which comes up on Friday.

“We will submit all papers to the new panel of experts that the Supreme Court has asked us to," said Briac Beilvert, director of Ship Decommissioning Industries (SDIC), speaking to The Indian Express from Paris. SDIC bought the ship from the French government and was responsible for its dismantling.

So long, Paris has claimed that there are 45 tonnes of asbestos on board after 115 tonnes were removed in France. With French President Jacques Chirac ordering a fresh inventory today, Beilvert said he hoped the controversy would be put to rest.

“The turning back of the ship means that the Alang shipyard would be run the same way as it was run before. This project would have been an opportunity for them to set up workers’ safety procedures as well as sites for dumping hazardous waste," said Beilvert. He is not willing to comment on whether his contract with Sree Ram Vessels, the Indian ship-breaking firm, continues after this. ‘‘We are in close touch with them and would still like to work with the company," he said.

Meanwhile, ship-breakers in Alang hope this is not the end. "This case has helped us clean our yards and get better equipment for the workers involved in ship-breaking. There are many other ships waiting to come in and this experience will come in handy then," said Girish Luthra, MD of Luthra group, the company that was supposed to clean up Clemenceau’s asbestos.

The news was treated with despondency at Alang struggling to survive competition from other countries like China, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Prakash Patil, who heads the All-Alang Workers Association, said, "The decision to take back the ship is very disturbing. Alang thrives on the ship-dismantling business. The French government should take measures to protect us from toxic chemicals instead of taking back the ship."

Mukesh Patel of Sree Ram Vessels, which purchased the ship a year-and-a-half ago, refused to comment. All he said was the company is yet to receive “official intimation.” His company had spent Rs 20 lakh on training personnel and buying equipment for "safer" dismantling.

This round has clearly gone to the campaigners. "The French court’s decision and President Chirac’s statement to call the ship back shows how a government takes corrective action when pressured by public opinion," said Ramapati Kumar, a Greenpeace India campaigner specializing in toxic materials. In the Supreme Court, the government, including the Ministry of Environment, had made it clear they were for the ship coming to India for dismantling.

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