Another ‘Blue Lady’ heading for India?

March 24th, 2008 - 11:59 am ICT by admin  

New York, March 24 (IANS) Is another “toxic time bomb” headed for a ship-breaking yard in India? The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has served notice on its owner for not obtaining the mandatory clearances. Rights groups say this is not enough. Pulled by a tug, the SS Oceanic (formerly SS Independence), an aged 682-foot ocean liner, sailed from San Francisco Feb 8, passed Hawaii and Guam and is now believed to be near Saipan, capital of the North Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific.

According to the Basel Action Network (BAN) and Save the Classic Liners Campaign that tipped off the EPA, the ship’s owner, Global Marketing Services (GMS), “routinely buys ships from all over the world and sends them to the notorious breaking beaches of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India”.

BAN estimates the ship is loaded with 210 tonnes of toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminated material and 250 tonnes of asbestos.

More than 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs were manufactured in the US before the EPA banned the production of this chemical class in 1978.

PCBs were commonly used in paints, industrial equipment, plastics and rubber products. EPA banned this class of chemicals after tests showed that PCBs cause cancer in animals and affect nervous, immune, and endocrine systems in humans.

The last owner of the classic 1950 liner Oceanic was Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) that “already has a reputation for negligence and evasion of international and national environmental and safety laws”, a BAN statement said.

Another NCL liner, the former SS Norway - also known as the “Blue Lady” - is anchored off the Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujarat. It was the focus of a bitter legal battle last year with the Indian Supreme Court finally permitting its dismantling but laying down stringent guidelines on environmental safety.

The Blue Lady carries 10 tonnes of asbestos.

It was not immediately clear whether GMS has agreed to comply with the new guidelines.

On their part, the two activist groups have expressed shock that the EPA is only seeking to levy a fine and is not taking urgent action to stop the violation and bring the toxic ship back to the US.

“The government is letting the ship owners get away with what could be tantamount to murder,” said Jim Puckett of the Seattle-based BAN.

“It is merely slapping these perpetrators on the wrist and allowing the offence to continue. Lives are at stake here so why on earth is the government not demanding that the ship be turned back to US territory at once?” he wondered.

“EPA filed suit because the export of PCBs is illegal under the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA). But the government has not filed an injunction against the ongoing export but is merely seeking fines. Furthermore, by the time the lawsuit is decided, the damage will have been done,” BAN maintained.

The EPA issued a federal complaint against GMS on March 18 for “distribution in commerce and export of PCB-containing materials on the MV Oceanic, formerly the SS Independence, a ship being sent to be scrapped overseas”.

Fines against the company may be assessed up to $32,500 per violation per day, the EPA said.

GMS has 30 days to file an answer to the complaint to avoid a penalty assessment without a hearing.

According to BAN and the Save the Classic Liners Campaign, the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) was warned of the latest export well before the vessel left San Francisco “and that it was likely illegal and yet they did nothing to stop it”.

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