Asbestos-laden Clemenceau returns home

17th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

BREST, France, May 17, 2006 (AFP) - The giant aircraft carrier Clemenceau, once a proud symbol of France's naval might, returned to home port in Brest Wednesday morning after failing to find a foreign country willing to dismantle its asbestos-contaminated hull.

BREST, France, May 17, 2006 (AFP) - The giant aircraft carrier Clemenceau, once a proud symbol of France's naval might, returned to home port in Brest Wednesday morning after failing to find a foreign country willing to dismantle its asbestos-contaminated hull.

The Clemenceau docked amid tight security at around 10am at the Breton naval base in northwestern France, after a lengthy and controversial journey under tow to India and back.

A dozen navy tugboats helped manoeuvre the 27,000-tonne vessel into its berth in the port — the same one that it had occupied in 1961, when it began its 36 years of service with the navy.

Troops swarmed on to the deck as the ship came into port, while helicopters circled overhead and a dozen military vessels stood by to enforce a ban on approaching within 300 metres of the ship.

Commando units were deployed across the port to block access to the vessel.

Several hundred people turned out to watch the Clemenceau — described by one as a "ghost ship" — pass the lighthouse at the entrance to the Brest Channel, including one of the metalworkers who helped construct it.

The French authorities must now decide how and where to get the ship dismantled, after conducting tests to determine exactly how much asbestos — a carcinogenic substance — remains in its structure.

Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie has pledged the ship would not stay in Brest beyond 2008, after local authorities voiced fears it could become a permanent eyesore.

The Clemenceau's return, following an 18,000-kilometre round trip to India, marks the latest stage in an embarrassing three-year saga.

In 2003, the decommissioned vessel's hull was sold to a Spanish company, which had agreed to strip it of asbestos within the European Union.

But when it started towing the Clemenceau to a breakers' yard in Turkey, a nation with lower health and safety standards than those of the EU, France cancelled the deal.

In 2005 Paris tried to send the Clemenceau to India for demolition but the Egyptian authorities blocked its passage through the Suez Canal on safety grounds. After Cairo relented, it was the turn of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to demand an explanation for the ship's dispatch to India.

In February 2006, the Indian High Court banned the Clemenceau from entering the country's territorial waters and French President Jacques Chirac ordered the infamous vessel back home.

The French U-turn on the Clemenceau was hailed as a major victory by environmentalist groups, who had fought-tooth-nail to block its transfer to Alang on India's west coast, home to the world's largest ship-breaking yard.

They argued that Indian shipyard workers were not properly protected from the risks of working with asbestos.

The Clemenceau, 266 metres long and 51 metres wide, saw action in the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s and the first Gulf war of 1991.

Following its decommissioning in 1997, the ship, named after World War I prime minister Georges Clemenceau, is now known officially and unromantically as "Hull Q790."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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