Toxic Trade News / 17 February 2006
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SC decision played major role in recall of 'toxic' ship
by Economic Times (India)
17 February 2006 (Geneva) – The Supreme Court’s decision not to let Clemenceau into Indian waters played an important role in the order of French President Jacques Chirac recalling the retired 27,000 tons aircraft carrier back to French waters and territory from the Arabian Sea.

The ship was just outside Indian territorial waters awaiting dismantling in the scrapyard of Alang in Gujarat. The French government, public, and political class, as well as environmental groups, are heaving a huge sigh of relief at what the French press had dubbed as a “nightmare” of a decision, which since January was attacked as ‘amateur, negligent and wrongful’.

The aircraft carrier will return to French waters until it’s ascertained that how much toxic waste and asbestos it actually contains, and how it can be decontaminated in France before being scrapped.

However, ironically, the same day the former renowned French cruiser, ‘France’, which was bought back and renamed ‘Norway’, was brought to be scrapped in a Bangladesh yard. There were varying reasons for the French relief.

Former French defence minister Chevhnement had stated that the sight of the former French aircraft carrier awaiting the orders of a foreign court, the Indian Supreme Court, to enter India was humiliating, particularly after it having been detained at Suez by French ally, Egypt, for 10 days.

An opposition leader stated that as a retired French military ship it should be treated with as much respect as a retired French soldier and should not be battered open in foreign shores. And then there were the environmental groups that stated that its export to India violated the Basel Conventions.

But newspaper Le Figaro has called the recall of the Clemenceau as a serious setback for Jacques Chirac, and his defence minister Michhle Alliot-Marie, who was forced to recall the old aircraft carrier under pressure from environmentalists.

The French media had highlighted the fact that if Chirac had done otherwise he would be confronted in India with controversies at a time when slew of important agreements are being sewed up between the two countries. One relates to the use of poor countries to get rid of its toxic waste, while the other pertains to the stiff opposition by Arcelor and the French to the hostile takeover bid by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.

For the French government the embarrassment of the refusal of the Supreme Court of India to permit entry of the aircraft carrier in Indian territorial waters was further complicated by the recommendation of the French government commissioner, Yann Aquila, to the French Supreme Court to suspend the decision to transfer the Clemenceau to India.

He pointed to the “doubts as to the presence of important quantity of toxic waste which the Defence Ministry does not permit to be removed” and t he possibility that European law may have been violated Greenpeace celebrated President Jacques Chirac’s decision to call back the decommissioned toxic aircraft carrier, the Clemenceau, to France.

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.

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