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Gujarat's Report on channel blockage due to US toxic ship is Bogus

Press Release

Gujarat's Report on channel blockage due to US toxic ship is Bogus

Parliamentarians question Govt on Platinum II

Voluntary Groups welcome unity among ship breaking industry of India, Pakistan & Bangladesh against hazardous wastes laden ships without pre-cleaning

New Delhi8/3/2010: Now it is clear that the report of the channel blockage due to US toxic ship, Platinum II is bogus. As of today the ship breaking plots at Alang in Gujarat has about 166 ships to dismantle. In the 2009 about 260 ships were recycled, several dozen ships came to Alang in the aftermath of the arrival of Platinum II exposing the misrepresentation of facts by GMB saying that the channel has been blocked because of the dead US ship becasue it has become a wreck.

Directorate General of Shipping, Mumbai, the Ministry of Shipping, Government of India is holding a meeting on 9th March, 2010 wherein the matter of US toxic ship, Platinum II is likely to be discussed among other things like industry's position against International Maritime Organsiation (IMO)'s ship breaking/recycling convention.

In the meantime, fearing rebuke from the inter-ministerial committee and the Supreme Court for not having complied with Environment Ministry's order in the matter of contaminated US ship Platinum-II at Bhavnagar, Gujarat, the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and Union Ministry of Shipping is caught in a bind and has inappropriately decided to amend the Merchant Shipping Act of 1958. (Find the proposed amendment attached and available at

Instead of complying with the Government of India’s order dated 9.11.2009, the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) by letter dated December 1, 2009 has once again created a fait accompli to out-wit the order passed by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, that the ship cannot be refloated and is defined as “wreck”. This a manifest attempt to escape indictment through linguistic corruption which has raised judicial eye brows.

Indian law with respect to wreck is laid down in Part XIII of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958. The Section 2 (58) of Indian Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 defines ‘wreck’ in an inclusive manner so as to take in both ‘goods’ and ‘vessels’. The definition of wreck is vague. The term ‘vessel’, under Section 2 (55) of the Act includes any ship, boat, sailing vessel or other description of vessel used in navigation which has been abandoned without hope or intention of recovery. Thus abandonment is a prerequisite for a vessel to be treated as a wreck. The insistence on total abandonment without even a hope or intention of recovery clearly shows that a stranded vessel or a vessel that is reasonably expected to sink cannot be termed as a Wreck under the Act. This is not the case in the matter of the dead US ship.

The Act after defining Wreck elaborates on norms governing the handling of Wreck in Part XIII which also deals with salvage. Even if it gets proven that the dead US toxic ship is wreck, even then the Act provides that the Central Government may appoint a receiver to receive and take possession of the wreck and to perform such duties as envisaged under Section 391 of the Act. Clearly, GMB is motive in commiting a linguistic corruption of defining a floating hazardous waste is to use the lacunae in the Indian law relating to the handling and removal of wrecks that has been permitting the perpetrators of illegality to go scot-free and the public exchequer is burdened with the task of meeting the huge expenses for wreck removal. The owner of the dead US ship must be made liable for his acts of ommission and commission.

Notably, under the Act for a vessel to be a wreck it has to be abandoned without hope or intention of recovery. There has to be a positive act of abandonment so as to constitute a wreck and to empower the receiver to meddle with the same. In the case of a foreign vessel if its wreck or cargos are found on or near the Indian coast or are brought to any Indian port, in the absence of the master/owner, the statute under Section 399 (2) mandates that the consular officer of the country in which the vessel is registered or the cargo owners belong, shall be deemed to be the agent of the owner with respect to the custody and disposal of the articles. GMB is not revealing whether it has approached the consular officer of the country to which the dead US ship belongs.

Environmental groups have demanded inquiry into the entry of dead U.S. ship Platinum II keeping in view its antecedents and the hazardous materials that it carries and whether the clearing such a ship as wreck was/is correct and proper decision. They seek concerned Ministries of Steel, Gujarat Maritime Board and other Government Agencies to send the dead US ship-Platinum II (MV Oceanic) out of Indian territorial waters.

The attention of the Union Ministries of Environment and Forests, Steel and Shipping has been drawn towards it. Earlier, a central technical team constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests conducted inspection of ship “Platinum-II” anchored at Bhavnagar Anchorage Point and found and concluded that a ship contains hazardous wastes like ACM, PCB and Radio Active Material. It was also concluded that though a ship was of USA origin, it got last registered at Republic of Kiribati in September 2009 and the last port was Dubai.

Following the said report, the Ministry of Environment & Forests invoked the Precautionary Principle and directed that granting permission for beaching and breaking, purposes of the ship will not be advisable. It may be mentioned that precautionary principle is the basis of UN conventions, such as Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade and Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). India is a signatory to these conventions and has ratified them as well.

Officials in the inter-miniterial committee are planning an independent trans-disciplinary investigating agency to ascertain the circumstances of the dead US ship’s arrival in Indian waters, to make concerned officials accountable for their acts of omission and commission amidst 8 questions raised in the parliament with regard to the toxic US ship.

Several questions have been raised in the current session of parliament because a ship, by the name Platinum II (formerly MV Oceanic, SS Independence) has arrived in the Indian territorial waters which it contains significant quantities of toxic PCBs, asbestos, radioactive materials in its structure.

Some important facts about the said dead US ship are as follows:

(i) Platinum II (formerly, MV Oceanic, SS Independence) is an ocean liner built in 1951 by Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Quincy, Massachusetts, USA for American Export Lines. In 1959, Independence was rebuilt as a cruise ship. Between 1974 and 1982 she sailed as SS Oceanic Independence, after which she reverted to her original name. Since 2006 the ship has been named SS Oceanic.

(ii) On 8 February 2008, after being mothballed for 7 years, MV Oceanic (later named Platinum II) left San Francisco for Singapore, and was reported to be going to Dubai. The ship measures 683 feet (208 m) in length and 23,719 gross register tons. She was capable of cruising at 26 knots. She accommodated 1,000 passengers, and was designed to accommodate 5,000 soldiers during wartime. MV Oceanic is the last US built ocean liner to sail under the American flag.

(iii) Following the 2001 bankruptcy of American Hawaii Cruises, the owners of the American Hawaii Line, The ship became the property of the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) and sailed from Honolulu to San Francisco, arriving on 8 November 2001.

(iv) In February 2003, Independence was sold at auction for US$ 4 million to Norwegian Cruise Line, which also acquired SS United States. At this time, NCL received permission to create US flagged cruise operation, to be named NCL America. (US flagging is a valuable competitive advantage, as the Passenger Vessel Service Act prohibits non-US lines from transporting passengers from one US port to another without stopping at a foreign port, and in particular it permits 7-day Hawaii cruises. As US flagging requires US-built ships, no other major cruise operation is US-flagged.) In mid-2006, Independence was renamed Oceanic, amid speculation she may be scrapped. In July 2007, Norwegian Cruise Line announced that Oceanic had been sold with later reports claiming the ship had been purchased by an American company.

(v) MV Oceanic was towed out of San Francisco Bay on 8 February 2008. Its final destination was revealed to be Singapore, but was changed to Dubai but has been stopped due to a complaint filed by the United States Environment Protection Agency (USEPA) that the ship was being towed to a overseas scrap yard. There were reports that the ship was destined for the scrap-yard in Bangladesh, but it has landed in Indian waters with impunity.

(vi) Global Marketing Systems, one of the last owners of the SS Oceanic (now named Platinum II) was fined $518,500 by US Environment Protection Agency (USEPA) for exporting the ship for scrap without prior removal of toxins such as asbestos and PCBs.

The blatant attempt of the GMB of to frustrate the international convention, Supreme Court’s orders and the order of the Government of India, must be dealt with in a manner that sets an example. The attempts, such as one made by GMB, to allow dumping of hazardous waste under one pretext or the other, in nexus with the shipping companies which is required to be broken so that transparent decision could be taken, which protects environment and human health.

That the hazardous wastes laden US ship in question was penalized by USEPA in January, 2009 for violation of US Toxic Substances Control Act. This proven PCB laden ship has been allowed to move out of US waters in violation of the moratorium which was placed on the sale of US Government-owned ships-for-scrap to foreign yards after protests outside the US embassy in New Delhi in 1998. The moratorium was placed by the then US vice president Al Gore.

That more than 700 ships have been broken in last 4 years, Environment Ministry’s letter to Steel Ministry dated December 16, 2009 took cognizance of the possibility that “the port of registry of most of the 200 ships received at Alang have not been properly investigated before desk clearance and there has been entry of dead and toxic ships into India. Investigation of port of registry of all the dead ships that came to Alang after the orders of the Supreme Court dated 6.9.2007 and 11.9.2007, has been requested.”

Following documents related to the said dead ship- Platinum II (MV Oceanic) has been submitted to the inter-ministerial committee on shipbreaking:

1. Complaint letter of US Environment Protection Agency (USEPA) against owners of Platinum-II (then known as MV Oceanic), Global Shipping LLC & Global Marketing Systems illegal distribution and export of a PCB-containing ship;
2. Press Release of US Environment Protection Agency (USEPA) on the order of the USEPA on Global Shipping LLC & Global Marketing Systems;
3. Statement of the US Environment Protection Agency (USEPA) regarding Global Shipping LLC & Global Marketing Systems;
4. Statement of the Operations Manager, Kiribati Ship Registry, Singapore;
5. Original Sample Copy of the Kiribati Ship Registry;
6. Certificate (Fake) of Registry for Platinum-II (SS Oceanic, SS Independence);
7. News Report of The Times of India, DNA and Indian Express

The MV Oceanic (now Platinum II) has been in the headlines since 2008 when its former owners, Global Shipping LLC (GSL) and Global Marketing Systems Inc. (GMS) were charged by the US government with illegal export of PCBs for disposal and use in commerce under the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA). The ship was carrying PCBs and was known to be headed for the scrapping beaches of South Asia. To avoid a court case to contest this charge, the former owners paid over one half million dollars as a settlement. After USEPA pressed charges, the owners denied that the ship was going to be sent for breaking on the beaches of South Asia as the USEPA and environmental groups feared and instead claimed it was to be reused as a ship by its new owners. The US law exists to protect other countries from the scourge of toxic PCBs but still the ship sailed away. In fact action is required to be taken by the US administration to repatriate the ship for illegal traffic.

The ships which are in fact floating hazardous wastes are allowed to anchor, beach and break without decontamination by the country of export; the antecedents of most of these ships are dubious; huge amount of lethal toxic wastes, radioactive wastes are dumped in our country and even the disposal creates serious risks of life and health to the workers and those living nearby. Dead ships which comes for dismantling is basically a waste which is end of life product and more so which has been towed. There is no inventory made either of the wastes which have been dumped nor the deaths and suffering cause to the workers.

The application that has been filed in the Supreme Court in the matter of the dead US ship has sought clarification as to whether an end - of the - life ship containing hazardous material can be exported to our country without prior de-contamination and whether such a ship can be allowed in the Indian territorial waters without our country having complete information about the antecedents of the ship, its ownership documents, complete inventory of hazardous materials embedded in the ship. Only after the complete examination of these documents, including the de-contamination of the ships done, and on granting permission that the ship should be allowed to enter in the territorial waters. The present procedure followed is extremely scary from every angle. A ship carrying hazardous material is allowed to enter in territorial waters and thereafter it sends a message that it has come for dismantling. The Authorities conduct inspection on the ship while it is anchored and invariably such a dead ship is allowed. The court has been asked to clarify this aspect in the interest of protection of environment, human health as well as from the angle of national security. The minutes of the meetings of Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Ship Breaking created by this Court’s order has also been submitted to emphasize the concerns on security aspects, besides other issues.

Meanwhile, environmental groups have welcomed the emergence of unanimity among the ship breaking industry of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to oppose the new International Maritime Organsiation (IMO)'s ship breaking/recycling convention which is pro-ship owners, anti-labour, anti-environment and quite regressive.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance, Mb: 9818089660 Web:

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