Toxic Trade News / 20 May 2006
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Blue Lady's on her way, but will she be welcome at Alang?
Pollution control board yet to okay cruise liner's entry to Alang; we're equipped to deal with asbestos: ship-breakers
by Palak Nandi, Ahmedabad Newsline (India)
20 May 2006 (Ahmedabad) – Will she, won’t she? Even as the Central Board of Pollution Control (CPCB) is yet to decide on cruise liner Blue Lady’s fate, ship-breakers at Alang are keeping their fingers crossed. Their wish? That the former cruise liner, which was to be dismantled at Alang and got in embroiled in a ‘‘asbestos controversy" like ageing French battleship Clemenceau, will be allowed to enter Indian waters.

What’s causing concern to the ship-breakers is the amount of business they are losing. Another worry? The liner’s expected to reach Indian waters by May 23 and they’re hoping a decision will be taken till then.

The 315-metre long and 46,000-tonne Blue Lady (SS Norway) was owned by Malaysia’s Star Cruises Limited and was purchased by Regent Shipping Company, reportedly for $17 million. The shipping firm, sources claimed, is spending between $30,000 and $40,000 per day in bringing it to India.

Regent Shipping Company expected to recover this amount from the ship-breaker who buys the ship.

The liner was to be brought to Rajiv Reniwal’s V4 plot at Alang.

Reniwal, the hand-buyer (he’s the one who’ll ultimately take over the ship and get it dismantled) of the ship at Alang, says there’s an ‘‘urgent need for a decision to be taken fast." Upset about the liner not being allowed into Indian Waters, he says: ‘‘There are 13 crew members on the ship, all of them Indians. The ship contains extra fuel, water and food that will last up to four or five days after the journey period. If it’s now allowed into Indian waters, things will be tough for the crew." The two tugs pulling the liner have about 10 to 12 crew members on board.

Though Reniwal was to dismantle the cruise liner, he’s not looking losses in the face if the ship doesn’t come to Alang. The shipping company bringing the liner to India will bear the brunt, as it’s only after ships are brought to the breaking yard that the ship-breaker pays up.

Though the company’s representatives refused to talk about the issue, saying they were hopeful that a positive decision would be taken and ‘‘that Blue Lady would be allowed to be beached at Alang."

Meanwhile, Reniwal said ship-breakers had made a representation to the Environment Ministry and had their fingers crossed.

‘‘There has been some mis-interpretation about SC order. We are only hopeful that a final decision is taken in a day or two as the cruise liner is expected here by Tuesday," Reniwal says. Denying environmental watchdog Greenpeace’s allegations, Reniwal insists that Alang has proper infrastructure to deal with asbestos. Mukesh Patel, who was the hand-buyer of French warship Clemenceau, says: ‘‘These controversies will only lead to the death of this industry. Activists do not understand how much the industry suffers and how great a loss one has to face when a ship is sent back."

The entry of Blue Lady into Indian waters was banned by Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), following reports that the cruise liner contains about 900 to 1,500 tonnes of asbestos and heavy metals and that it had been denied entry by Bangladesh.

What happened to Clemenceau

Clemenceau, often called Le Clim, was the 8th aircraft carrier of the French Navy. From the 1960s to the 1990s, she was the backbone of the French Navy.

On December 31, 2005, Clemenceau left the French port of Toulon to be dismantled in Alang.

But before the ship started its sail to India, Greenpeace started protesting against France’s attempts to dump the old 27,000-tonne warship laden with toxics such as asbestos, PCBs, lead, mercury, and other toxic chemicals on India.

On January 6, 2006, the Supreme Court temporarily denied access to Alang since the ship contained tonnes of asbestos and the Basel Convention on hazardous waste prohibits the transportation of toxic materials from one country to another.

The Supreme Court up a monitoring committee to look into the controversy. Not satisfied with the committee’s report, the SC on February 13 decided to set up a new panel.

On February 15, French President Jacques Chirac ordered Clemenceau to return to French waters and remain on standby following a ruling by France’s highest administrative court. The court acted on a complaint from Greenpeace.

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