France ready to take back asbestos from warship

8th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

ALANG, India, Feb 8, 2006 (AFP) - France will take back asbestos from a decommissioned warship heading for an Indian shipbreaking yard if New Delhi asks, France's ambassador said Wednesday.

ALANG, India, Feb 8, 2006 (AFP) - France will take back asbestos from a decommissioned warship heading for an Indian shipbreaking yard if New Delhi asks, France's ambassador said Wednesday.

"Our commitment is total and we're prepared to take back the asbestos which will be removed from the ship ... if Indian authorities so desire," Dominique Girard told reporters after touring the Alang yard in western Gujarat state.

"We will abide by the decision of the Indian government and the Indian courts. It's out of the question to force our way into India."

The immediate fate of the vessel Clemenceau depends on a decision February 13 by India's Supreme Court on whether to allow it into Indian waters.

Environmental groups say the warship, to be salvaged for steel, is full of asbestos and other toxic chemicals and poses a danger to Alang's workers.

France says the vessel carries 45 tonnes of cancer-causing asbestos insulation but the firm, which partially decontaminated it before the trip, says the amount is between 500 and 1,000 tonnes.

Girard said there was no "plan B" if the Indian authorities did not allow the Clemenceau to head to India.

Girard said France was sending its own experts to India and would closely monitor the health of the around 45 Alang workers expected to dismantle the 27,000-tonne vessel.

"The people (in charge) have a very clear vision of how they will be doing things," he added.

"On the specific question of workers' health, they have good records ... and they will be even stronger now with French partners. It will be followed up in watching the health of individual workers."

Greenpeace spokesman Ramapati Kumar dismissed Girard's assurances.

"Our reaction is very simple -- the whole transaction of the Clemenceau is illegal and immoral. We doubt the ability (technical expertise) of the shipbreaking yards of Alang will improve overnight."

Meanwhile, an 11-member court-appointed Indian environmental watchdog body was split over whether to allow the warship to be dismantled in India and has submitted two reports to the Supreme Court, members said.

"Seven said 'Yes,' three said 'No' and one was absent and hence two reports reflecting both views went to the Supreme Court," scientist Claude Alvares, a group member, said by telephone from Mapusa, a western Indian coastal resort.

The commission had complained Monday it was still awaiting information from Paris on the amount of asbestos aboard the warship.

Girard said documents should be with Indian officials by late Thursday.

"We didn't want to give them fake documents," he said. "We have the maps but not the quantities. We will be trying to get as close as possible.

Staff at the yard said India's shipbreaking industry was equipped to handle hazardous material.

"We have to do regular checks of our staff every six months and we have found no lung or any other health problem for 10 or 15 years," said Girish Luthra, chairman of the company responsible for the clean-up.

The Alang yard has suffered a massive downturn since 2003 and Indian officials said scrapping the ship would give employment to hundreds of workers.

Workers at the yard unfurled a banner saying: "Greenpeace Go Back" during Girard's visit.

Environmental groups say Paris is dumping its toxic waste on the Third World. They have called on India to stop the vessel from landing, accusing France of breaching a 1989 convention banning export of toxic waste.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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