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US ship has PCBs, radioactive material

A ship anchored near Alang ship-breaking yard is awaiting permission to beach even as environmental activists alleged the US origin ship was not de-contaminated as mandated by the Supreme Court guidelines on ship recycling. Platinum II is laden with toxic pollutants like asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) used in its construction. Activists demanded the ship be sent home like the de-commissioned French warship, Le Clemenceau, in 2006.

The Union environment ministry sent a three-member team to inspect the ship.

It was given permission to anchor by the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB). A ministry official said the probe was initiated on receiving a complaint that the ship was given permission to anchor on the basis of false documents. The committee is likely to submit its report by the end of this month.

The central inter-ministerial committee that monitors ship-breaking activities asked GMB not to allow the ship to beach till further orders, sources said.

Gopal Krishna of the Indian Platform on Shipbreaking, a coalition of non-profits, said Platinum II was SS Oceanic renamed. Its owners were penalized by the US Environment Protection Agency in January this year as it was sent out of the US in violation of the country’s toxic substances control act that prevents export of pcbs, a persistent toxic pollutant used in paints and insulation in older ships. He said the ship’s entry into India violated the Basel Convention that bans trade in hazardous waste.

Member secretary of GPCB, R G Shah, said the ship, operational for the past 35 years, had PCBs only in the flooring and the cables. Use of radioactive material is restricted to the ship’s fire alarms, he said. Atul Sharma, environmental engineer with gmb, said there was nothing wrong in allowing the ship’s dismantling if it followed the apex court guidelines. “If the Blue Lady which was a much bigger ship could be recycled at Alang, Platinum II can also be recycled,” Sharma said.

Krishna, however, said Alang does not have the capacity to handle hazardous waste. If Platinum II is allowed to beach in Alang, other developed countries will also start sending their ships, he said. The ship-breakers association at Alang said if the ships’s entry was legal, as GMB claimed, the ship would not have been renamed and registered in different countries.

Down to Earth, November 2, 2009

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