French aircraft-carrier: a floating embarrassment

14th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

MOSCOW, Feb 14, 2006 (AFP) - France will meet all legal obligations and court decisions regarding the future of the asbestos-riddled former warship Clemenceau, Prime Minister Dominque de Villepin promised Tuesday.

MOSCOW, Feb 14, 2006 (AFP) - France will meet all legal obligations and court decisions regarding the future of the asbestos-riddled former warship Clemenceau, Prime Minister Dominque de Villepin promised Tuesday.

"We are in a court process today. France will meet all obligations and decisions by the courts," he said during a visit to Moscow.

The French government faces mounting pressure to bring home the former aircraft carrier, as it awaits two key court rulings on its decision to send the ship to India for scrapping.

The former pride of the French navy is currently marooned in the north Indian Ocean, two weeks from the Indian shore, barred by the Indian Supreme Court from entering the country's territorial waters.

The aircraft carrier has become a major source of embarrassment for the French government, which stands accused by environmentalists and the opposition of exporting its pollution to the developing world.

The giant aircraft-carrier Clemenceau, once a proud symbol of France's naval might, is ending its life embroiled in a dispute with Indian ship breakers over the amount of toxic asbestos left in its hull.

A timeline of the ship's history and the dispute over its final destination:

1961: The 27,000-tonne Clemenceau enters service as one of the country's two fixed-wing aircraft carriers. It is named after Georges Clemenceau, who led France in the final years of World War I. Asbestos, an insulating material which was not known at the time to be carcinogenic, is widely used in its construction.

1997: The vessel is decommissioned after 36 years of service, which included action during the Lebanese civil war in the 1980s and the first Gulf War in 1991.

2000: The Clemenceau's sister ship the Foch is also decommissioned, then sold to the Brazilian navy, which is still operating it under the name Sao Paolo.

2001: The Charles de Gaulle, a nuclear-powered vessel, comes into service as France's sole aircraft-carrier.

2003: The hull of the Clemenceau is sold to a Spanish company, which undertakes to remove the asbestos within the bounds of the European Union. However France cancels the deal after the buyer begins towing it towards a Turkish ship breakers' yard.

2004: The navy signs a deal with a French company, Technopure, to strip the absestos from the hull so the ship can be towed to the giant Alang yard in India, where it is to be broken up for scrap. Technopure claims that only 45 tonnes of asbestos remains in the structure.

2005: French environmental groups, including Greenpeace, file a lawsuit to block the departure of the hull, which they say still contains large amounts of asbestos. At the end of the year, a court rules that the vessel can nevertheless be towed to India, via the Suez Canal.

January 6, 2006: India's Supreme Court rules against allowing the hulk to be decontaminated in India prior to demolition.

Jan 12: Greenpeace activists board the vessel as it approaches the Suez Canal. The Egyptian authorities initially refuse it passage, relenting on January 22.

Feb 3: Environmental groups publish a study claiming that the hulk still contains between 500 and 1,000 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated material.

Feb 8: The European Commission seeks an explanation from France on the deal to send the vessel to India.

Feb 12: A row breaks out over the amount of asbestos that Technopure removed from the vessel before its departure from the Mediterranean port of Toulon. The French defence ministry orders a probe after finding it cannot locate 30 tonnes of toxic material which Technopure claimed it had removed.

Feb 13: India's Supreme Court orders a new study into the materials aboard the hull, which remains banned from entering Indian territorial waters.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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