Protests as Bangladeshi buys asbestos-laden ship

15th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh, Feb 15, 2006 (AFP) - A Bangladeshi scrap merchant said Wednesday he had bought a famed ocean liner crammed with asbestos for 12 million dollars, sparking protests from environmentalists and a demand by the government for detailed information on the ship.

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh, Feb 15, 2006 (AFP) - A Bangladeshi scrap merchant said Wednesday he had bought a famed ocean liner crammed with asbestos for 12 million dollars, sparking protests from environmentalists and a demand by the government for detailed information on the ship.

The 11-storey SS Norway -- launched in 1960 as the SS France -- has been docked in open waters off the Malaysian coast for months awaiting a buyer.

"I have finalised the deal but I have not yet made the payment because of a dollar crisis in the local market," Haji Lokman Hossain, owner of a scrapyard near Chittagong in southern Bangladesh, told AFP.

Hossain had said on Tuesday that if the deal went through, "I will take measures to destroy all hazardous materials and toxic gas."

News of the clinching of the deal prompted dozens of environmentalists to form a human chain in Chittagong to protest the move to dismantle the ship at Hossain's Giri Subedar Ship Breaking Yard.

Global environmental group Greenpeace has included the SS Norway on a watchlist of 50 vessels, which it fears will not be decontaminated before being scrapped. It says the French workers who built the ship claim it contains 1,250 tonnes of material that contains asbestos.

A government inter-ministerial meeting Wednesday decided to gather more information about the ship before it makes a decision on whether to allow it into Bangladeshi waters, said Mohammad Riazuddin, technical director of the Department of Environment.

"We will collect more information and will analyse how much damage it can cause to our environment and workers at the ship breaking yards," he said.

A director of the department based in Chittagong had earlier said they would not allow the ship to be broken up in Bangladesh as it might cause loss of life and environmental damage.

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association served legal notices in the capital Dhaka Wednesday on relevant government agencies in a bid to halt the ship being brought into Bangladesh's territorial waters.

Ship breaking yards in Bangladesh dismantle up to 80 ships, mostly oil tankers, a year. Operating on beaches at Sitakundu, they indirectly employ some 300,000 people.

The fate of the SS Norway, once the most glamorous ship on the seas, has been the subject of much speculation since May when it was towed from a German port where it was consigned after a 2003 boiler explosion.

When the SS France was launched by the wife of then-president Charles De Gaulle on May 11 1960, it was, at 313 metres (1,027 feet) long, the biggest liner in the world.

The Queen Mary 2 currently holds the record at 345 metres (1,132 feet) long.

The vessel was sold in 1979 to Norwegian Cruise Line and renamed. It was kept at the German port of Bremerhaven at a cost of around 500,000 dollars a month after the 2003 explosion in Miami, Florida which killed eight crew.

Plans by France to scrap a decommissioned warship, the Clemenceau, at an Indian shipyard have been hit by a raging controversy over the amount of asbestos it contains.

The Supreme Court in New Delhi has ordered a panel comprising naval experts be set up to determine the exact amount of asbestos in the ship before ruling whether it can be broken up in India.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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