Toxic fears for disused maritime site

Environmental campaigners are calling for complete transparency on bids on the Scotland's disused Nigg fabrication yard, citing their fears it may be used to dismantle toxic ships from the USA.

Friends of the Earth has voiced its concerns that one of the four bidders for the site Able UK, which operates the largest ship recycling yard in the UK and has a contract to scrap American vessels, may use Nigg for similar purposes.

But Peter Stephenson, chief executive of Able, has dismissed the fears as ‘unjustified scaremongering’ and ‘nonsense’ saying that should the company’s bid be accepted the site would be used for a variety of purposes.

He said: “I can confirm that we have submitted a bid for the Nigg yard but as yet we are still awaiting the outcome.

“The reason we are interested in the yard is to develop it as a ‘Multi User Facility’ providing facilities for a number of primarily marine related clients undertaking a wide range of activities including port activities.”

He said some of the tenants might be involved in the marine recycling industry, but while he did not go as far as to rule out scrapping imported ships he said they would primarily be decommissioning structures such as oil rigs from the North Sea similar to those build at Nigg 30 years ago.

Friends of the Earth said at least one of the bidders had indicated the site would be used to support the growing renewable energy industry and the pressure group would like to see Nigg creating clean jobs for the local community in sustainable industries.

Mr Stephenson said:”We also wish to sea Nigg Bay developed to exploit the rapidly growing renewable energy industries.

“Recently we have established a division specifically to develop opportunities in the renewables field with the intention of providing facilities and operating bases at Teesside and Nigg Bay.

“We are confident that the site will create a significant number of jobs if we are able to develop this facility and I would expect that there could be employment for as many as a thousand people in different companies within five years on the site.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland Head of Research Dr Dan Barlow said the group wanted more clarity on precise plans for the site’s future from all bidders.

“We believe Able, and all the other bidders, should make public their full intentions for the site and whether or not they include the scrapping of contaminated ships from abroad,” he said.

“We would be deeply concerned if any company was to attempt to repeat what has happened in Hartlepool (see related story).

“Just as we need to deal with our own rubbish, we believe that the US should be doing the same.

“Sadly, the majority of the world’s ships from rich countries are currently scrapped in developing countries with little concern given to health and the environment.

“We believe that Britain should be responsible for dealing with its own redundant ships. Likewise, other rich countries such as the US have an obligation not to dump on others but to deal with their own contaminated fleet at home too.”

Mr Stephenson said criticisms of Able’s plans were unwarranted.

“I do think it is unfortunate if at this early stage, before we even know whether we have been successful in our bid, there is unjustified scaremongering and speculation,” he said.

“The reality is that currently there is no planning permission for recycling at Nigg so it is obviously nonsense to suggest that we are interested in acquiring it for that purpose and in fact any proposals for the expansion of activities there would require all the appropriate planning permissions and environmental assessments.

“Already there has been considerable misinformation about both the position in regard to our application for the development and expansion of our TERRC (Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre) facility at Graythorp and our contract for the recycling of a number of American vessels.

“The facts are we are currently providing additional information to the Environment Agency and other bodies during consultations over our planning application and we remain confident that our plans should be approved.”

Numerous campaign groups have argued that bringing the American ships, which contain waste classified as toxic under international agreements, would be a breach of international regulations.

Mr Stephenson said: “The American vessels which our decommissioning division is planning to recycle under a contract with the US maritime agency MARAD are not ‘toxic’ and contain no greater level of hazardous materials than any other ships or marine structures of their age.

“Our company has a long record of working with some of the world’s major companies in the demolition and recycling fields, including the decommissioning of many redundant oil and gas structures and only recently we were the only contractor in Europe to receive an award from BP for our record in the health, safety and environment fields.”

By Sam Bond

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