US ghost ships no longer coming to Britain

Nine American ex-naval "ghost ships" which were to be towed across the Atlantic and broken up on Teesside will no longer be making the journey.

Able UK says its £11 million contract with the US government to dismantle and recycle 13 dilapidated US Reserve Fleet vessels has been renegotiated.

But the company insists it will recycle the four ships already at its Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre (TERRC) – if it can win the necessary permission from Hartlepool Borough Council.

Peter Stephenson, Able UK chairman, said: “It is disappointing that, after all the efforts of so many people, the opportunity to bring the additional work, which would have been generated through the other nine vessels, has been lost due to the delay.”

Environmental groups, which have fought to block the deal, hailed the news.

Martin Wagner, of the American environmental law firm Earthjustice, said: “The death of this contract is good news for the environment and for American workers. The management of US toxic waste is a US responsibility.

“Why dump our trash in other countries when we can take care of it here and create new jobs at the same time?”

Able UK won the contract in 2003 with the first four ships arriving on the River Tees that year.

But legal and planning hurdles stopped the remaining nine from making the journey from the James River in Virginia to the Graythorp yard in Hartlepool.

Environmental concerns over the ageing navy ships, which contain toxic substances such as lead, mercury and asbestos, have dogged the debate with fears about the potential impact on the surrounding area.

Last year, the borough council threw out planning applications by Able UK to decommission all the vessels at the yard.

The company claims this has also cost it the chance to recycle redundant British Navy vessel, HMS Intrepid.

Mr Stephenson says an appeal will begin in September and he is “hopeful” the company will be able to begin ship recycling in early 2008.

David Gibbs

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