Dutch asbestos ship sparks protests in Poland

A Dutch ship containing at least 180 tonnes of asbestos sent to Poland for a re-fit has caused controversy after the extent of its contamination was revealed.

Polish authorities yesterday said they will not allow repair work to go ahead in the Gdansk port where the ship is docked, as the Dutch had hoped. It must instead be taken to a specialised shipyard, but no candidates have been found so far.

According to Greenpeace, EU law prohibits the import of toxic materials, so the ship cannot be sent back to Holland.

“The Dutch company took advantage of a legal loophope by sending it here. Had they sent us the same amount of asbestos in boxes it would have been illegal,” Jacek Winiarski of Greenpeace Poland told edie.

Although Greenpeace is pleased that the ship was not sent further afield to be dumped on the developing world, it believes that “every country should deal with its own waste,” said Jacek Winiarski.

The owner, Dutch company Woonbron, explains it exported the toxic ship for financial not safety reasons. In Poland de-contamination and re-fitting work will cost 20 m euro, while in Holland the sum would be several times higher.

As well as the 180 tonnes of asbestos used in its construction over 1000 tonnes more of material on the ship are contaminated, according to Greenpeace. A Polish shipyard official confirmed a similar figure to the Polish media.

Gdansk port authorities said they were only informed about the extent of contamination shortly before it was set to leave Holland, and initially refused to accept it.

Other European shipyards refused to accept the ship for a refit. Polish authorities have tried to calm the dispute, saying that EU regulations assuring the safe disposal of toxic waste also apply in Poland.

After it is cleaned up and re-fitted, the owners of the ship want it to serve as a restaurant, hotel and conference centre.

Meanwhile, the almost half-a-century-old ship remains docked in Gdansk, where it has been since Monday.

By Goska Romanowicz

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