Toxic Trade News / 25 July 2006
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Dutch pass 'green' buck as Otapan is bound for Turkish yard
A solution for two 'poison' tankers has been found, but reaching it has not been an easy process for any of the parties concerned, writes Helen Hill
by Helen Hill, Turkish Maritime News
  Asbestos tanker bound for Turkey  
25 July 2006 – After nearly seven years berthed in the port of Amsterdam, the Otapan, a chemical tanker still containing lethal brown asbestos, is set to be unceremoniously towed from the Dutch port to be scrapped, perhaps significantly, in a non-European Union country, Turkey.

With the interested parties extremely worried that the Otapan will turn into the next Clemenceau — the decommissioned French aircraft carrier equally blighted with asbestos — the vessel's exit from the Netherlands has been kept very quiet.

Several departure dates have come and gone but it is now thought that this week will see the Otapan leave for Turkey.

The Sandrien

The Dutch government has been very keen to make a stand about "green" scrapping, arresting the chemical tanker Sandrien, which has ironically spent many years berthed next to the Otapan.

But now it seems the Netherlands wants the problem transported elsewhere, especially when it realised the costs of scrapping closer to home.

The Otapan found itself embroiled in controversy when its naïve crew were commanded by the master to rip tonnes of asbestos out of the ship.

When around 3,000 refuse sacks were spotted on the deck, the implications were clear. Amsterdam, the capital of one of the most densely-populated countries in the world, had a real health hazard at the heart of the city.

After Mexican firm Compania Naviera Minera de Golfo (Navimin), the former owner of the Otapan, ran into financial difficulties, the Dutch state also found itself the owner of the ship.

Many thought Amsterdam would be the vessel's final resting place, as the vessel could no longer sail under its own steam after having rested and rusted for many years.

The Sandrien, too, is approaching the final chapter.

Lloyd's List has followed the tale of these two unwelcome guests over the years, so how was their final fate sealed?

The Dutch government was one of the very few that entered into the spirit of the Basel Ban with gusto. The Sandrien was detained under the Basel Convention ban on exporting hazardous waste because of fears that it was to be beached in Alang.

Built in 1974, the Bolivian-flagged Sandrien was detained on the instructions of ex-environment minister Jan Pronk because of fears it was to be beached in Alang without having asbestos and other toxic waste cleaned first.

Owned at the time by Upperton of Mauritius, the Sandrien had been berthed at the docks of the former Amsterdam Ship Repair yard since February 2001.

Eventually, with Upperton denying that the vessel was on its last journey and no money forthcoming from the owner, the Sandrien was left in place until November 2004, when the Dutch government decided to award the scrapping contract to Amsterdam Ship Repair. The government, together with Amsterdam city council, would pay the estimated scrapping costs of € 2m ($2.5m).

There were high hopes at the time. The Sandrien was held up very much as a test case, possibly becoming the first vessel to be scrapped in a truly green fashion. The former Amsterdam Ship Repair's parent company, DCG, hoped the zero-pollution scrapping method would see Amsterdam Ship Repair become the first "green' shipbreaking and scrapping yard.

The whole cleaning, dismantling and scrapping process was being checked and classified by DNV and the whole process would comply with International Maritime Organization and International Labour Organisation rules, as well as those of the Environmental Protection Agency of America and the United Nations environmental protocols.

Once completed, a green scrapping method would be fully classified. Amsterdam Ship Repair would be able to market its green expertise internationally and bring environmentally-friendly scrapping into reality.

Within three weeks, around 4,000 tonnes of steel had been taken out of the Sandrien and 14,800 tonnes of waste water, including heavy fuels, had been pumped out.

But the Amsterdam yard hit a problem when asbestos that had not been detected in surveys was discovered, which meant that the job would take much longer than previously thought.

Work slowed and bills started to add up.

And then came a major spanner in the works — Amsterdam Ship Repair was declared bankrupt and the receiver even cited the Sandrien as one of the causes.

With scrapping at the halfway stage last summer, the Dutch government was then left seeking a new company to take on the rest of the dismantling.

According to a government statement, half the vessel and an uncleaned engine room were still left.

First, an attempt was made to transfer the rest of the work to the yard's parent company, IMCA, but in the summer of 2005 the IMCA group, too, ran into financial problems and was unable to fulfil its guarantee.

There remained an Amsterdam Ship Repair bank guarantee worth €500,000 which was claimed. There was also a sum of €600,000 left over from the original contract price, which the bankrupt yard was unable to claim. After several months, it became clear there was no solution in sight and tenders were invited for the final scrapping.

The government stated that it chose the lowest bidder — Van Eijk Sloopbedrijven of Leiden — which, although known in the world of industrial scrapping and for asbestos removal, is not known in the ship scrapping arena.

Work will begin in mid-August immediately after the industry's holidays and will take up to 38 weeks.

The Otapan

With the Sandrien's demise looking certain, that of the Otapan, which is considered more potentially lethal by industry insiders, is perhaps less so.

This 22,328 dwt vessel has been berthed at Amsterdam Ship Repair for an even longer period than the Sandrien — since September 1999.

Then owned by Navimin, the Otapan hit the headlines when its unfortunate crew started ripping lethal brown asbestos out of the ship in 2001.

Navimin apparently wanted to repair the chemical tanker but because the insulating material — mainly asbestos —was in poor condition, it had to be replaced.

Apparently, after receiving quotations from specialist cleaning companies, the owner decided to have it removed by the crew in order to save money.

With around 3,000 bags or 26 tonnes found on deck, the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM) ordered them to stop.

After the exterior had been cleaned by VROM, the vessel was immediately sealed and because of the local health risk the Dutch government had little choice but to pay to have it cleaned up. The vessel was handed back to its owners and has been sealed ever since, with little known about how much asbestos remains.

According to a ministry statement prepared for Lloyd's List, the owner took no action until 2004, when, partly on the initiative of the Mexican embassy in the Netherlands, talks began between the Dutch government and Navimin.

The Netherlands proposed giving the owners financial support to tow the Otapan to Mexico or a similar destination, since it would be far less expensive to scrap it there than in the Netherlands.

The owners' initial response was enthusiastic but later they fell silent and nothing more was heard from them.

Meanwhile, Navimin had been the subject of a judicial investigation to see whether it had violated the Asbestos Decree in 2001.

A district court gave a judgment in 2005 and Navimin was found guilty of contravening environmental legislation. The ship was declared forfeit to the state of the Netherlands. If the state ended up with a positive balance it should be credited to Navimin.

This judgment made it more complicated to find a solution for this thorn in the Dutch government's side.

The State Property Department had now become the Otapan's owner on the state's behalf.

In what appears to be a familiar story with these problem ships, in 2005 Navimin, too, had run into serious financial problems so the Otapan was the least of its worries.

In 2005, Basilisk stepped forward. Basilisk, according to the Dutch government, reschedules debts of owners of movable and immovable property on behalf of mortgage lenders.

It has taken over the banks' claim and became the mortgagee/owner of the Otapan in late 2005. Consultation with the state advocate as to who is the real owner has never yielded a clear answer. So “to avoid getting embroiled in a protracted legal battle, it was decided to seek a practical solution and to continue the negotiations between the Dutch government and Basilisk”.

The State Property Department joined in, especially since established case law requires the government to take account of the rights of a mortgagee. This means that options other than supporting Basilisk to find a final destination for the vessel are no longer being considered, the ministry stressed.

The Netherlands then had several meetings with Basilisk.

An investigation last year showed that the ship was completely incapable of sailing under its own steam so a decision was made to scrap the vessel.

The government stated that “given the exorbitant cost of doing so in the Netherlands, a suitable alternative location was sought” — although for the Sandrien, the government had managed to find a solution in the Netherlands.

The Otapan's owners, Basilisk of Mexico and the State Property Department on behalf of the State of the Netherlands, chose one of the shipyards in Analya, near Izmir in Turkey.

Basilisk had put all its efforts into this solution, the statement stressed, and during the negotiations the “VROM inspectorate adopted the same position as it did towards the original owner and had not modified the offer”.

The Otapan will be towed to Turkey and scrapped at the Simsekler yard in Aliaga.

The Dutch government has learned a costly lesson. Assuming the two vessels are doomed, there is certainly a feeling that the Dutch won't be quite so keen to detain problem vessels in future.

It is always cheaper to turn a blind eye.

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