Fugitive Toxic Ocean Liner Now Believed to be Nearing Guam
Mariners are Asked to Report Whereabouts and to Avoid Selling Ship Fuel
Guam/Seattle– An aged 682 foot ocean liner known as the SS Oceanic (previously known as the SS Independence), loaded with an estimated 210 tons of toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminated material and an estimated 250 tons of asbestos as part of its construction, is expected to arrive within days in the vicinity of Guam where it will be needing to be refueled in order to continue its nefarious voyage. According to the Basel Action Network (BAN) and Save the Classic Liners Campaign, the export of the 1950 classic ship, recently owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) and mothballed in San Francisco Bay, does not pose a toxic threat currently to Guam, or the marine environment, but is a "toxic time bomb" for the laborers on the infamous shipbreaking beaches of Bangladesh, India or Pakistan where the ship is thought to be heading. There the shipbreaking operations endanger workers and the immediate environment by failing to manage asbestos, PCBs, toxic paints, and residual fuels. Moreover the export is likely to be illegal.
The ship and its tug, after leaving San Francisco Bay on February 8th, is now seen as an international fugitive vessel, as the US Environmental Protection Agency is known to be seeking to conduct an enforcement action on the vessel or its tug, the Pacific Hickory. They wish to stop the SS Oceanic in order to conduct sampling and analysis as it is expected that the ship contains significant amounts of PCBs. Under US law it is illegal to export the highly toxic banned substance for any reason. However after a February 20 press release was circulated, the ship's tug did not arrive in Hawaii to take on fuel as expected and instead, notified the Hawaiian Coast Guard that it was going to Guam. It has also been disclosed by the Guam Coast Guard that the tug has not notified Guam of its pending arrival to take on fuel, yet the vessel is expected to need to be refueled in the vicinity of Guam. Preservationist organizations such as the Save the Classic Liners Campaign also believe the ship's export violated laws designed to protect and preserve historic property.
"This ship is historic and should never be scrapped at all, but if it must be done it should be done in the United States where we can properly clean-up ships and dispose of the contaminants properly," said Erik James, of the Save the Classic Liners Campaign. "This ship must now be seen as a renegade vessel. We call on all mariners to report its whereabouts and to refuse to sell its tug any more fuel than it takes to make port at Guam."
EPA and others are finding it difficult to determine who the current owner of the ship is. The vessel was owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) and sold in July 2007 to California Manufacturing Corporation (CMU) which appears to be a company created by NCL and operates out of the NCL headquarters in Miami. CMU is still listed in the Coast Guard documentation as the last registered owner of the ship. Last Friday, BAN and Greenpeace delivered a letter to CMU by hand in Miami. It was accepted by Lillia Suarez, Assistant Administrator of Maritime Operations Department of NCL. However, NCL has revealed to journalists in the last days that CMU no longer owns the ship but sold the vessel on July 26th, 2007. CMU claims there is a confidentiality document in place so they can not divulge the name of the buyer. Thus while the ship continues to fly a US flag, the last registered owner is CMU/NCL and the new owner is not registered and has intentionally not revealed itself. Under US law, if the ship was sold to a foreign entity, as is suspected, this exchange is illegal as the Maritime Administration did not approve the sale as is required.
Further, importation of a toxic ship from the United States (a non-Party), for full or partial dismantling by a country that is a Party to the Basel Convention is a violation of the terms of the Basel Convention treaty. However, as was the case with the last NCL ocean liner that needed to be disposed of -- the SS Norway (aka Blue Lady), by the time it is rammed up onto the beaches at Alang, India, it may be too late to seek legal recourse. The SS Norway was beached in India in violation of Supreme Court rulings of India. Currently all shipscrapping in India is on hold pending government decisions about how to comply with Supreme Court requirements for pre-cleaning and gas-free certification. In spite of this ruling, the SS Norway and 52 other ships have been illegally beached and remain rotting in the tide pending government decisions. With record prices for steel and non-ferrous metals now being paid, unscrupulous ship owners can avoid the costs of proper toxic waste remediation and care, and make millions as a windfall profit from recycling in substandard breaking operations in South Asia.
"We fear that those involved with the decision to export this vessel from US waters have violated US national law and are intent on getting past the US waters of Hawaii and Guam undetected so they can drive this ship up on the beaches of Bangladesh, Pakistan or India," said Jim Puckett. "The ship and her tug should now be considered as a prime criminal suspect that is at large on the high seas. We urge all mariners to report her whereabouts so that she can be brought in for chemical testing."
Anybody with knowledge of the ship's whereabouts please contact:
Colby Self of Basel Action Network at 220.127.116.1152 or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information contact Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network (Seattle): at mailto:email@example.com
Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) firstname.lastname@example.org