21 September 2011

Toxic ship told to stay afar: Environment dept to decide its fate after inspection

Chinese toxic ship MV Asia Union arrived in Chittagong early Monday for dismantling and has been asked to stay off the port as it is imported illegally.

Department of Shipping has not issued any NOC (no objection certificate) in favour of the ship, said Jobair Ahmed, director general of the department.

The vessel has to return because its importer never applied for an NOC prior to importing as required by the law of the land, noted the DG. “The initial steps for importing a scrap vessel are obtaining an NOC, opening a letter of credit and applying for an environmental certificate. As regards Asia Union, nothing has been done to import it legally.”

Formerly known as MV Humber and MV Cast Otter, Asia Union was detected with at least “79 deficiencies since 2010” at different ports. It reportedly possesses hazardous substances including asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyl, toxic paints and chemical residues, which have adverse effects on humans, wildlife and the environment.

As soon as Asia Union reported its arrival at 3:30am day before yesterday, the port authority ordered it out of the port area, which is 5.5 nautical miles from Patenga point, Deputy Conservator of Chittagong port Captain Nazmul Alam told The Daily Star.

“A committee comprised of experts from the Department of Environment [DoE] and other organisations will inspect the ship. It will only be allowed for dismantling here if the inspectors issue an environmental clearance certificate,” he added.

According to Coast Guard sources, the ship is now anchored 5.4 nautical miles off Patenga point.

Sources in the shipbreaking industry said most of the importers do not bother to comply with the law because they somehow manage the custodians of the law.

“The Daily Star in its report on Friday blew the whistle on the toxic ship and our officials don't want to allow dismantling it,” mentioned a top official of Mercantile Marine Department in Chittagong.

Manager (operations) Khairul Wara of the importer Cosco Shipping said they have asked the DoE to inspect the ship and issue an environmental clearance certificate. Cosco Shipping is a subsidiary of the Beijing based China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company.

Khairul claimed the Asia Union is quite safe. He complained that a vested group is trying to influence the DoE.

International maritime watchdog issued warning prior to its arrival in Bangladesh. The DoE office in Chittagong alerted the port authority and the Coast Guard about the hazardous ship and urged them not to allow it entry to the country for dismantling, said Tajminur Rahman, senior assistant director of DoE.

Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) in letters to the DoE, Mercantile Marine Department and Chittagong Customs yesterday also warned them about the ship's arrival.

Bela said Indian shipbreakers rejected dismantling the ship for having dangerous substances. It urged the offices concerned not to issue any NOC or environmental clearance for Asia Union.

India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh are the leading shipbreaking countries in Asia. In the international ship-breaking business Bangladesh is considered a dumping ground for toxic ships due to lack of laws.

The authorities have granted permission to dismantle more than 100 ships in ship-breaking yards in Sitakundu since the High Court on March 7 conditionally relaxed restrictions on purchase of ships for dismantling.

Source: The Daily Star. By Morshed Ali Khan. 21 September 2011

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