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Dubious Ownership of Dead US Ship Under Probe

Note: Fake documents which have surfaced illustrate the dubious nature of ownership of Platinum II (SS Oceanic, SS Independence), the dead and convicted US ship in question. Investigating agencies are reported to be looking into the case of fraudulent misrepresentation.

'Toxic' US ship off India coast in limbo

NEW DELHI — A leaking former US naval ship blocked from entering India's giant Alang breaking yard due to environmental concerns is in limbo after its owners said Wednesday they were unsure of where to take it.

"The vessel cannot be broken up. I can't say what will happen to it," said Naresh Amrubhai Khuman, an agent acting on behalf of the owners of the Platinum II, which is anchored off the western Gujarat coast.

The vessel was initially given permission by local authorities to enter Alang, the world's biggest ship breaking yard, but a probe by the central government then recommended it be refused permission.

The investigation concluded the Platinum II, formerly known as USS Independence during its use in the US Navy, contained about 238 tonnes of asbestos-containing material, more than 100 used lead batteries and an unspecified amount of toxic chemicals known as PCBs.

The panel said there were also doubts about the way the ship had been registered before being brought to India. Khuman said all the paperwork was in order and legal.

The case follows other high-profile "toxic ship" cases when vessels heading for Alang have caused controversy.

Khuman said he was unaware if the owners, who he declined to name, intended to tow the ship to another country or if this would be possible given a leak.

"There's a hole in the ship. We have been trying to plug the leak. I can't say what will happen if the hole gets bigger," he said. "It's afloat at this point."

The asbestos-laden French aircraft carrier Le Clemenceau was turned away from the Alang yard, the world's biggest such facility, in 2006 because of concerns it would endanger the lives of scrapyard workers.

The previous private owners of the Platinum II agreed to pay a fine of 518,500 dollars in January this year after illegally exporting the vessel with the PCBs onboard, according to the website of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Exporting PCBs is a violation of US law unless authorised by the EPA.

Gopal Krishna, head of an environmental lobby group, believes the 682-foot (207-metre) long ship contains 210 tons of PCBs -- harmful chemicals used in wiring and paint which have been banned in the United States.

Komalkant Sharma, who owns the ship breaking company that was meant to take possession of the Platinum II, said he could only take the ship if it was cleared by the government.

"If the clearances are not forthcoming, I may not take the Platinum II," the boss of Leela Ship-Breaking Ltd at Alang yard, 200 kilometres (160 miles) northwest of India's financial centre Mumbai, told AFP by phone.

Source: AFP

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