Did mystery ship owners lie over fate of SS Norway?
A Khaleej Times Scrutiny Exclusive, Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates)
30 June 2006 –
Documents obtained by environmental campaigners appear to show the present owners of the ssNorway, the famous cruise liner Dubai investors want to save from an Indian ship breaking yard, gave false information to marine, government and court officials.
The ship, now renamed the 'Blue Lady,' is considered the last of the great cruise ships and to be of great cultural significance in the annals of maritime history. The vessel has been bought by a consortium of Indian scrappers who plan to tear the 1000-foot liner apart for her steel.
The ship is currently owned by a mysterious Liberian shell company, Bridgeend Shipping, who apparently bought the ship from its long-time owners and operators, the Malaysian-based Star Cruises. Bridgeend, in turn, is holding a promissory note for $19.3 million from the consortium of Indian breakers, Haryana Steel, in payment for the liner.
The true owners or controllers of Bridgeend Shipping is not known, although sources have told Khaeej Times the company has an interest in Haryana Steel.
The scrapping is being vigorously opposed by environmental groups who say the Indian breakers do not have the facilities or technology to safely dispose of the estimated 1,000 tons of asbestos used as fire retardant on board the ship. Last month, the Indian Supreme Court ordered a special Technical Committee to inspect the Blue Lady and assess the asbestos risk before she is allowed to be scrapped. The ship has been granted permission to anchor in Indian waters while the court makes its decision.
The Khaleej Times has learnt the Blue Lady was due to drop anchor at Alang at 8.40am Friday. Once there, she will be boarded by the inspection team, who are already in the town investigating the ability of the scrapper to safely dispose of the asbestos. Their report is expected by the end of the first week of July.
Yesterday, however, the Khaleej Times obtained access to documents that reveal the ship's owners gave apparently misleading information to marine and government officials in order to move the ship from its former berth at Kalang Harbor, Malaysia to India.
According to a document provided by the Malaysian Maritime Department, Bridgeend Shipping told Malay authorities on May 19 they were sailing to Dubai where the Blue Lady was to undergo 'repairs'.
In fact, the liner was towed directly to India. Once there, the ship's owners appealed to the Supreme Court to be allowed to anchor in Indian Waters on 'humanitarian grounds'. On June 5, a month after leaving Malaysia, the owners claimed the Indian crew would not be safe on the boat during monsoon season and might run out of food and water. In response, the court allowed the liner to anchor, but only until the technical Committee report was complete.
Then, the liner was turned around and towed to the UAE, docking at Fujairah for two days before again being towed back to the edge of Indian territorial waters.
Gopal Krishna, who is coordinating the environment campaign to prevent the ship being scrapped in India, said by misrepresenting the true destination of the Blue Lady when she left Malaysia, Bridgeebd Shipping had violated international law.
Specifically, he said, the owners had violated the United Nations Basel Convention on Hazardous Wastes which stipulates that ships containing material such as asbestos must be decontaminated in the home country first before being broken up.
Mr. Krishna said the ship left Kalang having already been sold for scrapping by the Liberian shell company. Therefore the ship should have been cleared of asbestos in Liberia. Instead the owners appear to have moved the vessel on the notion it was being repaired in the UAE, when in fact it was going to India for scrapping.
Mr. Krishna said: "Additionally, they told the court they needed to anchor in Indian waters on humanitarian grounds because the crew might be at risk. Why then did they, after they were granted permission, move the ship to UAE and then bring her back again? If they were really concerned about crew safety, would they have not immediately moved her directly into Indian waters or, having moved her to the UAE, kept her docked there until the monsoons were over?"
Mr. Krishna said he would be filing the documents with the Supreme Court as part of the case opposing the ship's destruction in India.
In the meantime, there is growing support for 'Project Dubai', a $120 million rescue plan developed by a joint UAE/US consortium of investors to save the ship and bring it to Dubai as a floating hotel, conference, restaurant and cultural center. Since the Khaleej Times story of June 28, Project Dubai's investors have been flooded with calls and offers of support.
John Voet, one of Project Dubai's US partners, said they were committed to having the Blue Lady's asbestos expertly removed and made safe before she was brought back to the UAE. "The risk from the asbestos is only a risk if the ship is broken up,' he said. "We want to make sure everyone walks away from this happy."
Rashid al Noori, a UAE partner, said: "The ship is still beautiful - a work of art. She needs cleaning and some attention, but there is no doubt she could become exactly the kind of niche project envisioned by
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum to bring the cultures of other nations into Dubai."
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