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New Toxic Ship Bound For India

Greenpeace campaigner Rampati Kumar (R) addresses the media during a press confrennce in New Delhi, 09 May 2006. Greenpeace expressed appreciation for the French Government's plan to find a solution to fully dismantle the French warship Clemenceau before 2008 and also drew attention to the imminent docking of highly toxic cruise liner SS France a.k.a SS Norway which is carrying 900 tonnes of asbestos. Photo courtesy of Manan Vatsyayana and AFP.
by Penny MacRae
New Delhi (AFP) May 10, 2006
A former passenger liner laden with asbestos is headed for India to be broken up for scrap, Greenpeace warned Tuesday, just months after it started an environmental row over the French warship Clemenceau.

Greenpeace said the ship could be even more toxic than the Clemenceau, which the French government recalled in February after plans to scrap it in India sparked controversy.

The 11-storey liner, originally launched in 1960 as the SS France, was once one of the most glamorous passenger ships on the seas.

It was expected to reach Indian territorial waters between May 20 and May 23 and would be dismantled in western India at the Alang shipbreaking yard, the world's largest, Greenpeace spokesman Ramapati Kumar told reporters.

"It's as big a danger to workers' health as the Clemenceau or more so," said Kumar.

The ship contained more than 900 tonnes of asbestos and other cancer-causing materials such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals, he said.

There was no immediate comment from the Indian environment ministry.

But Girish Luthra, chairman of Gujarat Enviro Protection and Infrastructure, a private firm which would be involved in any clean-up work, said breaking up the liner would bring 2,000 badly needed jobs to the yard.

"If any ship has asbestos or anything, that will be found only when it's broken and will be managed at a waste facility," he said.

France ordered the Clemenceau home after India's Supreme Court barred it from entering its territorial waters over pollution fears. The French government said it contained 45 tonnes of asbestos while the company which helped in its initial decontamination said the figure was nearer 500 to 1,000 tonnes.

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

It was turned away by Bangladesh in February on the grounds that it was too toxic to be dismantled there.

The fate of the 315-metre (1,035-foot) vessel, the last purpose-built ocean liner ever made, has been the topic of speculation since it suffered a 2003 boiler explosion in Miami that killed eight crew members.

The Greenpeace spokesman said the ship set out from Port Klang in Malaysia on May 6 under tow after being sold to Indian shipbreakers by Malaysian owners, Star Cruises.

Greenpeace estimated a sale price of 17 million dollars based on a 46,000 deadweight tonnage. Last February a Bangladeshi scrap merchant said he bought the vessel for 12 million dollars but had not made payment due to currencies problems.

Greenpeace says one in four workers in Alang could expect to contract cancer from workplace poisons. Many have died on the job from exploding gases and falling steel plates and other objects due to lax enforcement of safety rules, it said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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