France and EU set for collision course over ghost warship

The French government hit a new obstacle in its planned scrapping of the redundant aircraft carrier the Clemenceau this week as EU authorities suggested sending the ship to an Indian breakers yard might breach community rules on waste.

The Clemenceau's final trek to the Alang scrap yard has been dogged with problems since the outset.

Problems for the French authorities stem from the fact that the 27,000 tonne super-ship still contains large quantities of asbestos and other hazardous materials.

Even before it left port from Toulon high profile Greenpeace actions and occupation of the carrier focused the attention of the world's media on the ship and attempts to tow it through the Suez canal were delayed as the Egyptian government requested more detail on its toxicity.

There is still no guarantee the ship will be welcomed with open arms when it does arrive in India, with courts there barring it from entering Indian waters until they receive a detailed inventory of the hazardous materials (see related story).

Now in the latest chapter of the saga Brussels has warned Paris it might be heading for a legal wrangle and substantial fines for breaking EU rules.

The EU claims that regulations define ships destined for scrapping of waste and officials have said a formal letter will be sent to France asking for clarification on exactly what hazardous materials are still left on board.

For its part, the French government has always denied the Clemenceau counts as waste and says it has removed 115 tonnes of brittle asbestos - the most dangerous job - but had to leave 45 tonnes of asbestos in place to ensure the carrier's structural integrity during its final journey.

EU member states are also signatories to agreements which say they will not export toxic waste outside the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development bloc - of which India is not part.

The answers the EU receives will determine whether or not it will start proceedings but regardless of the outcome the warning shot across France's boughs might encourage the nation to consider other options when it needs to decommission other warships and its neighbours too are likely to take note.

By Sam Bond



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