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India Court Allows Toxic Ship Into Territorial Waters

The Blue Lady (pictured) was due to reach India by May 24 to be broken up for scrap at the world's largest shipbreaking yard in Alang in Gujarat. Photo credit: Basel Action Network.
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) Jun 08, 2006
India's Supreme Court Monday gave permission for a ship believed laden with asbestos and toxic materials to enter Indian waters but said it could not be broken up until its contents have been accurately determined.

The court last month ordered the 11-storey vessel, the Blue Lady, to remain outside of Indian territorial waters until an expert panel had completed a detailed study of its contents.

According to the United News of India (UNI) news agency, the panel in its report submitted to the court on Monday recommended the ship be allowed to anchor off the coast of western Gujarat state so experts could go on board for on-site inspections.

The ship at present it is anchored 120 kilometers (74 miles) off Indian territorial waters, UNI said.

The Blue Lady was due to reach India by May 24 to be broken up for scrap at the world's largest shipbreaking yard in Alang in Gujarat.

But environmental group Ban Asbestos Network on May 12 asked the court to ban the ship outright from entering Indian waters on grounds it it contains toxic materails local shipyards are not equipped to handle.

The Supreme Court however appointed an expert panel and said it wanted its report by July.

Environmental groups such as Ban Asbestos Network and Greenpeace say the ship contains 900 tonnes of asbestos and other cancer-causing materials such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals that could endanger the lives of workers.

Gopal Krishna, an environmental activist representing the Indian arm of Ban Asbestos Network, said the court's ruling Monday was based on humanitarian factors and in no way represented a defeat for his group.

"The court has ruled that since the crew of the ship is Indian, it has no engine and therefore cannot be anchored on the high seas, the ship be allowed to be beached in Indian waters on humanitarian grounds," said Krishna.

"The committee of experts has recommended to the court that the ship be allowed to be beached due to the inclement (monsoon) weather. But the court has not granted permission for the ship to be broken up in India," he said.

"The legal points on whether the ship can be broken up in India were not taken up today."

The SS France was renamed the SS Norway and later Blue Lady after being sold by its French owners in 1979.

The 315-metre (1,035-foot) vessel set out from Port Klang in Malaysia on May 6 under tow after being sold to Indian shipbreakers by Malaysian owners, Star Cruises.

In February, the ship was turned away by Bangladesh on the grounds that it was too toxic to be dismantled there.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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