Ghost warship will return to France

The ageing warship Paris had hoped to have scrapped in India has been ordered back to France after the official state watchdog deemed it industrial waste.

India’s Supreme Court had already upheld the ban barring the aircraft carrier the Clemenceau from entering national waters until it could decide whether Gujarat is a suitable site for its final resting place.

But the court’s decision has become a moot point as French President Jacques Chirac has been forced to send the ship home after the state watchdog, the Conseil d’Etat, said the asbestos-laden ship constituted 27,000 tons of industrial waste.

In a case that has highlighted the environmental and social problems associated with ship breaking, the French Government sent the redundant warship the Clemenceau to be dismantled at Alang, in Gujarat (see related story).

A preliminary clean up of the ship took place before it left France but the levels of toxic materials that remain – particularly asbestos – sparked outrage from environmental campaigners.

Paris had hotly disputed estimates of the amount of asbestos still on board, arguing it has left the minimum required to guarantee the ship’s seaworthiness.

It also held that the ship was not waste and remained a naval vessel, so that international agreements on the export of waste did not apply.

Taking a precautionary approach, India banned the ship from entering national waters until it can clear up just how much of a toxic threat the Clemenceau presented and whether the breaking yards of Alang were equipped to deal with it.

This week India’s Supreme Court said the committee of legal experts it had set up to look at case was not qualified to make a final decision as it lacked the necessary technical knowledge.

It sought the advice of retired navy personnel who have the appropriate background knowledge to come to an informed opinion on the risks.

But the fiasco came to an end when it was announced on Wednesday that the ship would be returned to French waters, after the Conseil d’Etat said warships were not exempt from EU law.

Toxic waste campaign group the Basel Action Network, named after an international agreement which forbids the export of toxic materials, welcomed the decision as a victory for the environment.

“France has finally been dragged, kicking and screaming to face the realities of its own international obligations as a global citizen, and the message for the rest of the world is very clear – take responsibility for your own toxic waste,” said the group’s Jim Puckett.

“The Basel Convention agreed to by 167 countries clearly demands that old ships must first be pre-cleaned if they are going to be freely exported to developing countries for scrap.

“It is no longer acceptable for superpowers and the shipping industry to act as if they are above the law and all principles of environmental justice.”

by Sam Bond

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