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Ramesh seeks Gujarat report on toxic ship

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, June 01, 2011

The government rushed into action a day after report of toxic ship Probo Koala, now known as Gulf Jash, heading to Gujarat for dismantling even as country’s law fails to prevent entry of such ships.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday said that he has sought a report on Gulf Jash from the Gujarat government after Bangladesh refused entry to the ship involved in controversial death of 16 persons in Ivory Coast, where it dumped its toxins in 2006.

“Yes, I have asked for the report,” the minister said.

For many environmental activists such as Gopal Krishna, convener of NGO Toxic Watch Alliance, preventing entry of Gulf Jash into Indian territorial waters will not be easy.

“Many ships enter India on basis of fake papers hiding the fact that they have toxins. Most of these toxic ships originally of the companies registered in Europe are sold to buyers who then register them in Panama. Its entire history is then wiped out,” he said.

Gulf Jash is also registered in Panama and an official of US based Global Marketing Systems, the alleged owner of the ship, told HT that the ship does not contain any toxins. “It has been used to ferry dry cargo since the Ivory Coast incident,” the person who identified himself as Rizwan said.

He explained the history of the ship since illegal dumping of toxins in Ivory Coast allegedly caused death of 16 persons but claimed that the company is not its owner. He, however, did not deny that it was negotiating to buy Gulf Jash. “We negotiate to buy many ships,” he said.

As the news of Gulf Jash entering India spread, Alang based Leela Group was prompt to claim that it has not bought the ship. “We have no connection to her or have any information regarding the vessel,” a statement issued by Corporate Communication department of the company said.

As per rules, a foreign ship for dismantling is allowed entry only if it has an Indian buyer. In the past, ships denied entry into Bangladesh such as SS Blue Lady was bought by Indian ship breakers and were dismantled in Alang in Gujarat.

If the government wants the environment ministry can direct the port and coast guard authorities prevent to a ship from entering India on the grounds of containing toxins. In 2009, the ministry has stopped entry of US ship Platinum II allegedly carrying 200 tonnes of asbestos and 210 tonnes of materials containing toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) from entering Alang.

This time, the ministry’s action will depend on the report it receives from the Gujarat government.

Govt unaware of owners of ships coming to Alang, says report
Jun 2, 2011

NEW DELHI: The government is unaware of who really owns the ships that are coming to Alang for ship-breaking, an internal report of the government accessed by TOI admits.

The report prepared by the Standing Monitoring Committee on Shipbreaking Yards at Alang notes that the customs officials and the Gujarat Maritime Board are unable to verify whether the documents provided to them when the ship beaches at Alang are falsified or not.

The committee has recommended that the Director-General Shipping be made responsible for verifying the documents of the 'end-of-life' ships coming to Alang for being broken down.

But the Gujarat Maritime Board has attempted to create a loophole in this. It has said that if the DG Shipping does not clear the documents within 48 hours then it would be presumed that the certificates submitted are authentic and genuine.

The committee had noted that the customs and GMB officials had been unable to "verify the authenticity and genuineness of ship's registry/flag in the past in respect of some ships referred to them".

The issue of ownership had become important with a Naval intelligence report. The report had warned in 2004 that the Dawood gang had invested heavily in the business of ship-breaking. "A large number of cash buyers (who buy these condemned ships against cash) are Pak nationals based at London/UAE. Due to large profit margins, Dawood group appears to have invested heavily in Cash Buyers thus having a stake in most deals," Directorate of Naval Intelligence had noted.

Almost 40-50% of the metal trade arising from breaking down a ships was done through the hawala route, it had also recorded.

The intelligence report had warned that smuggling of contraband, explosives and agents on these ships on to Indian soil was a distinct possibility. It had said that the defence ministry should give clearance for all such vessels before the ship is allowed to enter Indian waters.

It has been reported several times that ships bearing registration with shell companies in countries like Liberia, Comoros Islands, Kiribati and Panama come for breakage at Alang. The real owners of the ships remain hidden behind these shell companies with the ships carrying what are called 'flags of convenience'.