Wednesday, February 04, 2009
A former French aircraft carrier deemed too unsafe to be scrapped in India is on its way to Britain to join the ranks of so-called "ghost ships" on the banks of the River Tees. The vessel, formerly known as the Clemenceau, has begun its journey from Brest in France, to be broken up and recycled at Graythorp, Hartlepool. It will join seven other decommissioned vessels that crossed the Atlantic and are waiting to be taken apart at the Teesside Reclamation and Recycling Centre, owned by the company Able UK. The Clemenceau was originally set to be dismantled in India, but revelations that it was loaded with asbestos sparked protests by environmental groups. French authorities cancelled the dismantling, leading to extensive legal wrangling over the ship's fate. The Teesside company won a contract, reported to be worth up to £3.5 million, to scrap the vessel, and said it would bring jobs and prosperity to the area. The firm had to apply for an exemption from the Health and Safety Executive so the ship can be dismantled and recycled. The former warship contains about 700 tonnes of contaminated materials, including asbestos, which is illegal to import into the UK. The fleet of "ghost ships" at Hartlepool has caused controversy among environmentalists, who fear the asbestos on board will harm the environment and damage the health of workers dismantling the vessel. The 32,780-tonne ship, which is 225m long and 65m high, will become the largest to be recycled in Europe. Able UK said scrapping the carrier in the UK would bring more than 200 jobs to Teesside when work starts shortly after Easter. The ship will be towed across the North Sea by a giant tug, and is expected to arrive in Hartlepool this week.But Friends of the Earth said it had no plans to oppose the carrier being taken to north-east England to be scrapped. Campaigns director Mike Childs said Able UK had "gone through all the right procedures and all the right environmental safeguards have been put in place". He said: "We recognise that it is not practical for every country to have its own ship-scrapping facilities." Mr Childs said recycling the metal of the Clemenceau was a positive step, and would help to cut down on damaging mining activity. He also said breaking down the vessel in Europe was a better option than using ports in India or China, where environmental regulations might not be as rigorous. "It has got to be scrapped somewhere, and it is good that European ships are being scrapped within Europe," he said. But local groups remain opposed. Iris Ryder, a member of the organisation Friends of Hartlepool and a candidate for the Green Party in Europe, claimed the Clemenceau was a "floating timebomb". She said: "It has got toxins in it that will be deposited forever. "A lot of people do not want Hartlepool turned into a toxic dumping ground for the rest of the world." Named after France's First World War prime minister Georges Clemenceau, the aircraft carrier was launched in 1957 and became the mainstay of the French fleet. She saw action in the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s and the 1991 Gulf war, and sailed more than a million nautical miles before being withdrawn from active service in 1997. In 2006, she sailed to India to end her life at the giant Alang ship-breaking yard, but was turned away over concerns she would endanger the lives of Indian scrapyard workers.