France urges EU accord on scrapping "toxic ships"
by Reuters AlertNet (London, UK)
7 March 2006 (Innsbruck, Austria) –
France called on its European Union partners on Tuesday to look at ways of dealing together with "toxic ships" such as the asbestos-laden French warship which has become a political headache for Paris.
France recalled the retired aircraft carrier Clemenceau from its bungled journey to an Indian scrapyard last month after an Indian court barred the 27,000-tonne ship because of concern for the health of scrapyard workers.
Ecologists said the ship contained 10 times the 45 tonnes of asbestos that France said had to be left on board to keep the vessel afloat.
French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told her EU counterparts the Clemenceau episode was the tip of the iceberg and pointed out that around 1,000 ships around the world were waiting to be scrapped.
"This is not about passing the buck. This is a problem that has been around for a long time," Alliot-Marie told a news briefing after defence ministers' talks in the Alpine city of Innsbruck.
"I proposed that there be a working group on this subject and there was great interest in this proposal," she said, citing interest from Germany and Sweden.
The Clemenceau saga embarrassed Paris in the run-up to last month's visit to New Delhi by President Jacques Chirac, who has called for international rules in the area to be clarified.
The Clemenceau is due to return to the port of Brest via the Cape of Good Hope after waiting off India's territorial waters since mid-January.
The costly decision to bring it back led opposition parties to attack Chirac's conservative government, which is trying to save money and reduce state debts.
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