Toxic French warship arrives in England for dismantling

9th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

The dismantling will be the biggest ship-recycling project ever undertaken in Europe.

Hartlepool – The asbestos-tainted French warship the Clemenceau arrived in a British "ghost fleet" shipyard Sunday, where it is to be broken up despite protests from green campaigners.

The ship, once a proud symbol of the French navy's strength but now known simply as "Hull Q790," was guided by five tugboats into its docking position at a shipbreaking yard in the port of Hartlepool at around 2:30 pm (1430 GMT).

Though clearly rotting, the ship's name was still visible when it arrived at the yard, owned by Able UK, the company awarded the contract to dismantle it, thus completing the last leg of a journey that saw it travel thousands of kilometers (miles) in a bid to be taken apart.

"I'm glad to finally see it here," said Paul Stephenson, Able UK's chief executive.

The dismantling will be the biggest ship-recycling project ever undertaken in Europe.

Named after France's World War I prime minister Georges Clemenceau, the aircraft carrier was decommissioned in 1997. It saw action in the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s and the 1991 Gulf war.

The Clemenceau has, however, spent the past five years at the center of an embarrassing saga, as it was towed around the globe in the search for a place to dispose of its toxic hull.

In 2006, it was taken as far as India to be broken up at the giant Alang shipbreaking yard, but was finally turned away over concerns it would endanger the lives of Indian scrapyard workers.

A French court Monday rejected an attempt by an environmental group from Brittany to block the vessel's transfer to England, clearing the way for it to leave.

Some English environmentalists are also alarmed over the arrival of the ship, which contains some 700 tons of material contaminated with asbestos, a carcinogenic substance. However, they failed to block its transfer in the courts.

Yet other campaign groups, including Greenpeace, welcomed the decision to have the toxic ship recycled in the West -- rather than exported to a country with less stringent safety and pollution rules.

Supporters of the move also argue the Clemenceau's demolition will provide much needed jobs for British workers hit by the economic slowdown.

There were no protesters to be seen when the Clemenceau arrived in Hartlepool.

Able UK said work on the former Clemenceau would begin after Easter and provide "in the region of 200 jobs."

Specialized in rehabilitating disused sites and facilities, including for international oil companies, the company says it is "built on total reliability and respect for the environment."

Able UK operates a 25-acre (10-hectare) dry dock that can accommodate ships up to 400 yards (366 meters) long, or 15 ships measuring 200 meters by 24 meters.

The firm hit the headlines in 2003 over four US "ghost ships" -- the Caloosahatchee, Canisteo, Canopus and Compass Island -- which green groups said should have been dismantled in the United States.

The ships were among 13 retired navy vessels that Able UK was contracted to recycle under a deal with the US government. But Able had to renegotiate the contract, keeping four ships while letting the other nine go.

Elodie Mazein/AFP/Expatica

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