Toxic Trade News / 20 March 2006
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Hazardous UK ship dismantled in Pakistan
UK violated Basel Convention; Ministry of Defence insists it acted in good faith
by Daily Times Monitor (Lahore,Pakistan)
20 March 2006 (Lahore) – An asbestos-riddled British warship was being dismantled in Pakistan, in breach of a binding international agreement, the UK-based Sunday Telegraph reported.

The ship, Sir Geraint, which had previously been used in the Falklands War, was currently being broken up at the Gadani shipyard in Balochistan, the newspaper said.

Britain has come under fire from environmental groups since the move has violated the Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundry Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory. The Convention, which entered into force in 1992, was designed to reduce hazardous waste movement between nations, and to specifically prevent developed countries from dumping such materials to less developed countries. Nevertheless, the Sir Geraint was allowed to sail despite suspicions that it could be sent to a scrap yard on the subcontinent.

Critics claim that Pakistani shipyard workers are inadequately protected against asbestos and other harmful substances. This represents another violation of the Basel Convention, which provides that developing countries must be assisted in environmentally sound management of the hazardous and other wastes they generate.

When asked to respond to allegations of knowingly violating international law, Britain’s Ministry of Defence insisted that it had acted in good faith since it had only sold the ship – to Babcock Support Services last January – on the condition that the vessel would not be sent to the subcontinent for scrapping.

Babcock is believed to have included the same provision when it sold the vessel to Regency Projects, a concern that buys ships and sells them to breakers overseas.

Yet despite these apparent safeguards, the Environmental Agency, the body charged with monitoring where ships are scrapped, had reason to suspect that the vessel, renamed Sir G, was on its way to the subcontinent.

However, the agency allowed to the Sir G to leave British waters after having received assurances, it is not clear whether these were written or otherwise, that it would not be dismantled.

When the ship reached Pakistan, it was sold to Bismilla Maritime Breakers, where the dismantling process began.

Martin Besieux of Greenpeace International on Saturday accused the MoD and the Environmental Agency of failing to prevent the ship’s departure.

“The authorities must have known it was going to be scrapped when it left British waters, so why didn’t they act and stop it?” The incident also raises questions over the enforcement leverage of the Environmental Agency.

When asked for comment, an MoD spokesman appeared to trivialise the issue, describing the incident as “a bit unfortunate”.

He said that while the Environment Agency and the MoD had been working together, he recognised that stronger clauses were needed when selling vessels on. “This particular ship went through so many hands that it all got slightly messy. It identified a problem and all steps have been taken to prevent it happening again.”

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: “We did have concerns about the ship, but, at the time of our inspection, we were satisfied it was a fully functioning vessel. We were assured that the intention was to keep it in service.” No one from Regency was available for comment on Saturday night. The company had previously said it had nothing to do with the ship being scrapped.

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