Blue Lady has 1240 MT of asbestos & radioactive Material at 1088 Places
Asbestos, PCB & Lead laden Blue Lady is Reversible even after beaching
New Delhi: By order dated 11/9/2007 a Division Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (comprising Dr Justice Arijit Pasayat and Hon’ble Mr Justice S H Kapadia) granted permission for the dismantling of the ship Blue Lady at Alang, Gujarat based on the submission by Gopal Subramaniam, Additional Solicitor General to the effect that the ship does not have any more radioactive material and beaching is irreversible.
Contrary to the recommendations of the Technical Experts Committee, Gujarat Pollution Control Board, Gujarat Enviro Protection and Infrastructure Ltd (GEPIL) and the Priya Blue Shipping Pvt Ltd, the petitioner pointed out to the Court that the ship contained radioactive substances at thousands of places. But in the order passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court it is merely stated, “There was also an apprehension rightly expressed by the petitioner regarding radioactive material on board the vessel Blue Lady. Therefore, an immediate inspection of the said vessel beached at Alang since 16.8.2006 was undertaken by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and by GMB. The apprehension expressed by the petitioner was right. However, as the matter stands today, AERB and GMB have certified that the said vessel Blue Lady beached in Alang no more contains any radioactive material on board the ship”.
In this regard it may be pertinent to state that the petitioner had referred to a letter sent by one Mr Tom Haugen (who had been the Project Manager for Engineering, Delivery, Installation, Commissioning and later services and upgrades as regards Fire Detection Installation Systems on board the Blue Lady) stating therein that the fire detection system on the Blue Lady contained 5500 detection points and had 1100 radioactive elements, Americium 241. However, a perusal of the aforementioned report of the inspection undertaken on 14.8.2007 shows that the entire inspection of 16 floors of 315 meter long ship seems to have been completed within a period of 4 hours (a commendable task no doubt) and the report states that they could detect only 12 smoke detectors containing Americium 241. Having found these 12 smoke detectors containing radioactive materials, the report concludes that the ship “now, does not contain any radioactive material on board”.
No mention is made as regards the balance 1088 smoke detectors containing Americium 241. In a letter to the Prime Minister dated 19th September, 2007, Haugen has reiterated the fact about enormity of radioactive material given the fact that he himself supervised its installation.
The Court has been misled into going only on the aspect concerning asbestos and has accepted that 85 % of the asbestos is contained in the form of wall partitions, ceilings and the roofing in rooms and galleries and if removed without damaging them, they would be reusable. Firstly, no mention seems to have been made as regards the balance 15 % of the asbestos contained on the Blue Lady, which in itself would come to 186 MT of asbestos-the only assumption that one could draw from the same is that the removal of this 186 MT of asbestos is bound to cause asbestosis, Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer and other related illnesses.
The Court was misled by the ingenious arguments (curiously advanced by the Learned Additional Solicitor General) that “in the present case, the vessel does not contain single kilogram of asbestos and/or ACM as cargo”, though it had never been the stand of the petitioner that asbestos or Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) was being sought to be brought in as cargo. It is interesting to note that in the observations/recommendations made in the 29th Report of the Committee on Petitions (14th Lok Sabha), dated 17.8.2007 it has been submitted that “the committee are extremely are concerned that the ship contains an estimated 1240 MT of ACM and about 10 MT of PCBs as inbuilt material and as a part of its structure. In case the asbestos fibers are inhaled or the PCBs are consumed by humans beings, the same may cause cancer unless proper precautions are taken for safe handling of these materials by the workers. The committee strongly deprecate the repeated stand taken by the ministry that since no hazardous waste have been allowed on boards as cargo, there is no violation of the Hon’ble Supreme Court directions. The Committee need not emphasize that hazardous waste whether as cargo or inbuilt material are equally detrimental to the environment and to the human health.” The Environment Ministry gave oral evidence before the Committee but did not disclose the radioactive content of the ship.
The petitioner brought to the notice of the Court that asbestos waste is banned in India and Asbestos is banned in some 45 countries and even World Trade Organisation has passed a verdict against it because of its carcinogenicity at every level of exposure. There is indisputable evidence that safe and controlled use of asbestos is impossible but the Additional Solicitor General misinformed the court about its safe use and re-use. It hs been submitted that Rule 12 (i) of the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 bans import of asbestos. As per Schedule 8 Serial No. 15 describes waste asbestos (dust and fibres) as hazardous wastes prohibited for import and export. The court has not clarified whether or not this Rule has been violated and if not then where will it apply if not in this case.
Allen Todd Busch, Vice President & General Manager, Titan Salvage, a Crowley Company one of the largest and most respected salvage companies operating has written to the Prime Minister saying, “the primary reason the court has ruled in favor of breaking the vessel, in its current position, is because there is a belief that the vessel can not be removed from where it now rests. This is not the case. We have the capability and expertise to refloat the vessel. Please allow us to present to the Prime Minister and India’s Court our credentials, history and experience that there is actually very high probability that the BLUE LADY is not at all in an "irreversible" position, as the esteemed Court has found.” Also as per the Technical Report from Aaage Anderson (Memo on Refloating Blue Lady) who was involved in the Le Clemenceau case, the ship in question can be refloated.
The Court has not considered a very crucial contention raised by the petitioner with regard to “Prior Informed Consent” which has been accepted in the Rio Declaration, Basel Convention, Cartegena Protocol, Rotterdam Convention, Stockholm Convention etc-this principle has also been incorporated in Hazardous Wastes Rules 1989. As per the principle no member state can send hazardous waste to a developing country without its prior consent. Another important aspect raised by the petitioner has been given a complete go by namely, that a ship ought to be decontaminated prior to its export for dismantling (which view was expressed by the Hon’ble court in its earlier judgement of 14.10.2003 and reiterated in 6.9. 2007 order).
Apart from the above, the petitioner had also raised apprehension regarding the security aspect and the violations thereof with regard to the entry of the ship in the Indian territorial waters-that despite the ship purchaser having obtained an order permitting anchoring in Indian territorial waters on humanitarian grounds, the ship was taken to Dubai for 25 days and thereafter brought back to India. Despite the petitioner expressing his apprehensions regarding the implication of the above action as also bringing to the notice of the court a Naval Intelligence report that the mafia was involved in the ship-breaking activities in India and that the same coupled with the fact that the Blue Lady (despite allegedly being a ship which on dismantling would yield 41, 000 MT of Steel and provide employment to 700 workmen) was sold for a paltry sum of 10 dollars to the purchaser, no attention has been focused on this aspect.
Even as it was becoming clearer that the Blue Lady (SS Norway, SS France) can be sent back, the Additional Solicitor General misled the court into believing that since beaching is irreversible Blue Lady cannot be sent back. It may be noted that Blue Lady ship was granted anchoring permission at the request of Rajeev Reniwal, Hariyana Ship Demolitions Pvt Ltd, Sosiya Ship-breaking yard, Bhavnagar, Gujarat on humanitarian grounds on 5 June, 2006. Hariyana Ship Demolitions Pvt Ltd had bought the ship Bridgend Shipping Ltd, Monorovia, Liberia. Bridgend Shipping Ltd had bought SS Norway from Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Star Cruise Lines Ltd in Januray 2006 . It was at this stage that the ship was once again renamed SS Blue Lady. The ship in question is in illegal traffic as Basel Convention. There is documentary proof that such ships are required certification for prior decontamination of the ship in the country of export. In the case of Blue Lady let alone decontaminating the ship as per the court’s order, it has till date not even been claimed that it has been decontaminated.
It is quite sad and disappointing that the Hon’ble Supreme Court has not dealt with the application filed by Bhagvatsinh Haluba Gohil, Sarpanch, Village Sosiya, Tehsil Talaja, and District Bhanvnagar on behalf of 30, 000 villagers and 12 panchayats of Bhavnagar district of Gujarat have filed the case through their heads of village councils (Sarpanch) in the Supreme Court. These villages are in the vicinity of Alang ship-breaking yard. They have sought directions asking the court to "direct that the ship named "Blue Lady" (SS Norway) be not allowed to be dismantled at the Alang Ship-breaking yard." The villagers have argued that "The dismantling of the ship would have hazardous effect on the residents of the villages near the Alang ship breaking yard as the ship contains large amount of asbestos which, when exposed is hazardous to the health of the residents living in the twelve villages." Dismantling of Blue Lady would set a very bad precedent for it seems contrary to established Prior Informed Consent Procedure given the fact that the court is yet to hear the application on the issue of asbestos exposure to these villagers in Alang, the scrapping of Riky and whether or not Blue Lady has complied with the Supreme Court order of 14th October, 2003 and September 6, 2007.