Courts stall 'toxic' ship breaking

The dismantling of a ship which environmental campaigners claim contains hundreds of tonnes of toxic materials has been put on hold in India after two judges called a halt on the scrapping pending an investigation into whether the yard commissioned to do the work has appropriate facilities.

The disposal of redundant hulks has become a political hot potato in India following years of pressure from domestic and international NGOs which seek to highlight the risks to both the environment and the health of workers, as well as those living near the scrapyards.

On Monday two judges sitting at the country's Supreme Court ruled that the Blue Lady, a former cruise liner registered in Norway, could not be dismantled until state regulators had determined whether or not the work can be done safely in the notorious Alang ship-breaking yards.

The proceedings mirror those earlier in the year when the French government was eventually obliged to bow to pressure and recall its aircraft carrier the Clemenceau, which had been due to be scrapped in Alang, and carry out the work itself (see related story).

Again, asbestos is the hazardous material causing the most concern, with Greenpeace claiming the 46,000 tonne vessel still contains more than 900 tonnes of the toxic material.

The court has ordered the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, the state's environmental protection agency, to study the a report published by an expert panel appointed by the court to look into the case in June as well as the scheme of work submitted by the dismantling yard.

The board has been given a month to assess whether, in its opinion, the ship can be safely dismantled.

Ship scrapping is a difficult subject for the Indian authorities as they balance the potential dangers against the need for employment and income in the desperately poor communities where the dismantling takes place.

NGOs have claimed this is a false argument, as most of the money from the work goes to those who own the yards, and not the communities themselves.

Sam Bond



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