A storm brews as toxin-laden liner heads for Alang shipyard
Environmental activists say the entry of the ship, SS Oceanic, into Indian waters violates Supreme Court orders
New Delhi: India’s ship-breaking hub Alang is in the news again with environmental activists here likely to protest against the arrival of a toxin-laden ship after a Seattle-based group warned that this “fugitive of US laws” was headed towards the Gujarat port.
The group, Basel Action Network (BAN), looks at worldwide toxic trade and has said that the entry into Indian waters of the 682ft liner, SS Oceanic (previously known as the SS Independence), would violate the Supreme Court of India’s orders on ship breaking. The group has asked India to route the ship back to the US.
Owned by Maryland-based Global Shipping Llc. (GSL), the ship is said to be carrying 210 tonnes of toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and an estimated 250 tonnes of asbestos.
“This ship is a fugitive of the environmental laws of the United States,” said Jim Puckett of BAN. “Its arrival in Indian waters is a violation of the Basel Convention as well as the Supreme Court of India’s orders. We call on the Indian government to stop this ship at once and turn it back to the United States. Under no circumstances can it be allowed to be beached,” Puckett said.
On the Supreme Court’s orders, the Indian government has constituted a committee comprising representatives from the ministry of environment and forests, Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), Gujarat Maritime Board and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board to verify that ships beached at Alang do not have any toxic substance on board.
If SS Oceanic beaches at Alang, it will not be the first ship to flout the apex court’s orders.
According to Gopal Krishna of the Platform on Shipbreaking, an activist group, 88 ships have beached in India despite the court’s orders issued in September 2007. Mint reported on 25 January that around 53 ships had been beached in Alang in violation of the Supreme Court’s orders.
“After Supreme Court’s orders, there were moves to dilute them. There is no doubt that contaminated ships are continuing to beach at Alang. And the conditions at the yard are no secret,” said Sanjay Parikh, Supreme Court advocate on the hazardous waste case.
A GPCB official said on condition of anonymity that he did not have information on this particular ship. But the board will look into the matter when it’s time to act, he added.
The US Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has meanwhile served a federal warning to GSL and Global Marketing Systems Inc., GSL’s associate company. The company faces fines that could go up to $32,500 (Rs13.2 crore) per violation per day.
“US laws prohibit companies from exporting PCBs, including those in ships that are sent overseas to be scrapped,” said Rich Vaille, associate director for waste programme enforcement in EPA’s Pacific Southwest region, in an official press release. “When companies illegally export PCB waste they are circumventing US requirements for proper disposal. PCB waste must be properly disposed to protect public health and the environment.”
“This is particularly of concern as the Alang ship breaking yard has no capacity to destroy PCBs which is required by the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. Under the terms of that treaty, PCBs which are one of the ‘dirty dozen’ chemicals slated to be phased out by the convention, must be destroyed and not placed in landfills of any kind,” said Puckett.
GSL has been given time to file an answer to the complaint to avoid a hefty fine without a hearing.
“The ship’s arrival will also violate the Basel Convention, an international treaty to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries,” Puckett said.