Scrapping luxury liner poses hazards
9 March 2005, HAMBURG - Plans to scrap the SS Norway, once the largest and most glamourous liner afloat, have run into trouble with German Greens warning that breaking up the giant vessel poses an incalculable environmental hazard.
9 March 2005
HAMBURG - Plans to scrap the SS Norway, once the largest and most glamourous liner afloat, have run into trouble with German Greens warning that breaking up the giant vessel poses an incalculable environmental hazard.
Members of the ruling centre-left coalition, members of the Greens delegation to the German Bundestag parliament warned the ship's owners of the environmental hazards that could be unleashed during the scrapping process.
The vessel, built as the SS France some 45 years ago, almost certainly contains asbestos, carcinogenic PCBs, toxic chemicals and other dangers along with environmentally hazardous oil and coolants, the Greens said.
They called on authorities in Bremerhaven, where the vessel is currently docked, to determine whether the ship poses a potential environmental hazard prior to giving permission for it to be scrapped.
"It is imperative that a thorough inspection be undertaken to determine that the SS Norway in no way poses a threat to health or to the environment during the scrapping process," said Rainder Steenblock, a Greens Bundestag deputy who is a member of the parliamentary committee on transport.
He said it may be necessary to remove asbestos from the vessel before allowing it to be sent off to an Asian scrapyard.
Steenblock noted that such large ships generally are sent to scrapyards in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China where the vessels are dismantled almost literally by hand.
"The ships are hauled up onto the beach where unskilled manual labourers cut them apart," Steenblock said. "They dismantle the ships with their bare hands and carry the pieces on their shoulders to waiting trucks."
He added, "That leaves these men unprotected against potentially hazardous substances like lead, asbestos, cadmium and dioxins which are likely to be present in an older vessel such as the SS Norway."
The vessel's owners, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), are reported to have decided to sell it for scrap after no buyer came forward with a purchase offer of more than USD 20 million - the estimated scrap- metal value of the vessel.
Ironically, soaring steel prices mean that NCL can get more money by scrapping the ship than by selling it.
The graceful and sleek liner that plied the North Atlantic for four decades is now awaiting the wreckers at a pier in the German port of Bremerhaven, where she has been berthed since an explosion ripped through one of her four boilers nearly two years ago, killing six crewmen and injuring four.
Initially, Germany's Lloyd Werft shipyard was to have undertaken repairs, so the liner was anchored at the old Banana Pier in the Kaiserwerft section of Bremerhaven's harbour.
But the vessel has sat idle while families of the crewmen fight protracted legal battles for compensation. The legal wrangling in American courts is complicated by the fact that the Norway is foreign owned while the victims were non-US citizens, mostly Filipinos, and the explosion occurred in Miami.
As the months dragged on, and with maintenance costs running at USD 500,000 a year, the company began asking for a bidder to buy the vessel at a reported asking price of USD 20 million.
The ship's present plight is a far cry from its launch into service in 1962, when the SS. France was the pride of the French Line. At 1,035 feet (315 metres), she was the longest ocean liner in the world, built to carry first and tourist class passengers in unrivaled elegance and luxury.
But as impressive as the ship was, she was a floating dinosaur - made extinct by the advent of jet-propelled trans-Atlantic air travel.
Service was suspended in 1974, barely 12 years after the ship's launch. Some predicted even then that the ship would be sold for scrap. She was laid up at Le Havre until 1979, when she was bought by Norwegian Caribbean Line and renamed the SS Norway.
Refurbished, updated, and converted to year-round cruise routes, the ship proved an immediate success, offering cruise passengers a far grander spread of cabins, public rooms, bars, and lounges than any other cruise ship then afloat.
The Norway continued sailing through the 1990s, mostly in the Caribbean, but new and vastly more modern cruise ships were already providing tough competition even before the fatal fire in 2003.
Then on 25 May 2003, following a Caribbean cruise, a boiler exploded and spawned a deadly fire while the ship was at anchor in Miami. It was a devastating blow from which a stately queen of the seas would never recover.
Subject: German news