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  Government survey finds serious corrosion on US ’ghost’ ships

    jeudi 25 septembre 2003

Toxic fleet heading for UK to die is unfit for voyage

John Vidal Thursday September 25, 2003 The Guardian

A British government surveyor has found that the first two of 13 obsolete and highly polluted US navy "ghost" ships due to be scrapped in Hartlepool are in a dangerous condition and need extensive work before they can be towed to Britain, the Guardian has learned.

A report obtained from the maritime and coastguard agency by Friends of the Earth reveals that the 50-year-old supply ships Canisteo and Caloosahatchie need welding work to rudders and propellers and have "serious corrosion" of the rivets and seals.

The surveyor, who visited the two ships with officials from the US department of transport and Able UK, the Teesside company which has signed a £16m contract to scrap 13 of them, has recommended the ships not be allowed to leave until further internal and external inspections have been ccompleted.

The report conflicts with US government surveys and claims by Able UK that the 13 ships had been passed fit to travel by the US, Lloyd’s underwriters and others.

Both ships were due to leave Virginia several weeks ago.

The findings come three weeks after the Guardian revealed that the ships, which are polluted with banned carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, and heavy marine diesel oil, were to embark on the voyage to Hartlepool despite warnings from leading salvage experts that they risked bringing an environmental disaster.

"We found rivets that showed evidence of excessive erosion, with cupheads wasted or reduced. These should be given a thorough inspection inside and outside of the shell. Repairs must be performed where needed," says the report, which also calls for a new assessment of the forces that the ships are liable to encounter on their four-week, 4,500-mile journey.

The report, written on September 11, reveals that the two ships will be towed unmanned across the Atlantic in tandem by a single tug to the English Channel.

On arrival there, they will be separated and taken individually through the Channel in daylight.

It had initially been understood that they would not be allowed through one of the world’s busiest shipping lane because of the risk they posed to other vessels.

Under the contract with the US government, the first ships must leave before mid-October to avoid heavy seas.

The import of the 13 ships, all classed by the EU as "toxic waste", has caused a storm among environmentalists and MPs who argue that the American "ghost fleet" of 142 redundant vessels should be dismantled in the US on safety grounds and according to the principle established in international law that countries should dispose of their own waste.

The ships were banned from disposal in developing world countries by President Clinton, but the law was lifted earlier this year by the Bush administration.

The British government relaxed hazardous waste import laws to allow the ships to be dismantled in Hartlepool.

Yesterday, a group of MEPs from Britain, Belgium, Holland, France and Ireland - the countries whose waters the ships must pass through to reach Teesside - demanded that the ships be prevented from entering European waters until a full investigation into the risks of an oil spill has been completed, and the safety of the vessels guaranteed.

Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for South-East England and a member of the parliament’s environment committee, said : "We should not take chances with our waters. These ships pose a clear and present danger of oil spills."

Mike Childs, campaign director at Friends of the Earth, called on the government to stop the fleet coming to Britain.

"Even a superficial inspection reveals that they are not in a fit state to enter UK waters. The United States has the capacity, skills and moral obligation to deal with these ships," he said.

Peter Stephenson, the managing director of Able UK, was unavailable for comment yesterday, but the company has denied claims that the ships are unsafe.