08 February 2009

Toxic warship arrives:

Clemenceau at Hartepool
LONDON: The asbestos-contaminated French aircraft carrier Clemenceau arrived at a “ghost fleet” shipyard in northeastern England yesterday to be broken up, an AFP reporter at the scene said. 

The ship, once a proud symbol of the French navy’s strength but now known simply as “Hull Q790,” was guided by five tugboats into its docking position at a shipbreaking yard in the port of Hartlepool at around 2.30pm (1430GMT).

Though clearly rotting, the ship’s name was still visible when it arrived at the yard, owned by Able UK, the company awarded the contract to dismantle it, thus completing the last leg of a journey that saw it travel thousands of kilometres (miles) in a bid to be taken apart.

The dismantling will be the biggest ship recycling project ever undertaken in Europe.

Named after France’s World War I Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, the aircraft carrier was decommissioned in 1997. It saw action in the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s and the 1991 Gulf war.

The Clemenceau has, however, spent the past 5 years at the centre of an embarrassing saga, as it was towed around the globe in search for a place to dispose of its toxic hull.

In 2006, it was taken as far as India to be broken up at the giant Alang shipbreaking yard, but was finally turned away over concerns it would endanger the lives of Indian scrapyard workers.

A French court on Monday rejected an attempt by an environmental group from Brittany to block the vessel’s transfer to England, clearing the way for it to leave.

Some English environmentalists are also alarmed over the arrival of the ship, which contains some 700 tonnes of material contaminated with asbestos, a carcinogenic substance, but they failed to block its transfer in the courts.

There were no protesters to be seen, however, when the Clemenceau arrived in Hartlepool.

Able UK bosses confirmed that work to demolish the carrier will be given to 200 British workers.

After national protests over the use of foreign workers, Able revealed all jobs will go to British employees – many from the Hartlepool area.

Able UK’s group development director Neil Etherington said: “These are British jobs for British workers, principally for Hartlepool.”

Able bosses also confirmed the company is in negotiations to try to bring two British ships to its site at Graythorp, on the outskirts of Hartlepool.

The Clemenceau will be recycled at Able UK’s Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre (TERRC) facility. There are already three British ships, four American ships and oil rig platforms on site.

Able UK chairman and chief executive Peter Stephenson revealed Clemenceau could be followed in by a further two ships before the cofferdam is closed and recycling work begins. He said: “We are hoping to get one or maybe two British ships in before the dam needs to close.

“I can’t say too much more but we are in negotiations and we need to know within two weeks because that is when the dam will be closed.”

“It has been a bit of a struggle to get the Clemenceau here but it couldn’t come at a better time to give a boost to the region in the current economic climate.”

Able UK first hit the headlines in 2003 when they brought four ex-American naval ships to their TERRC site for recycling. Dubbed the ‘Ghost Ships’, they led to protests from environmental groups and work was delayed while Able UK gained permission from planning and health and safety chiefs.

Stephenson said millions of pounds and jobs have been lost over the past five years as a result of the delays.

He added: “There has been a lot of noise coming from a small group of people and they have been very successful in delaying the start of work on the whole project.

“This facility has been dead for five years now and millions of pounds, and jobs, have been lost.  It has been a very frustrating time. We have lost five years of work at the site and we should have had 50 ships pass through here in that time, and yet we have only had five.”

Two of the American ships have been moved to make way for the Clemenceau and work has already begun to remove asbestos material from the Caloosahatchee and Canisteo.

Stephenson added: “Our objective is to have all the work on the ships that are currently in the dock completed by next Christmas, that would be a nice present. –Agencies

Source: Gulf Times. 8 February 2009

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