USEPA files a case against PCBs & Asbestos laden SS Oceanic
The complaint, recently filed in San Francisco and denied by the company, imposes a $32,500 fine per day on Global Shipping.
Built in 1951, the SS Oceanic is reportedly carrying 210 tons of PCBs and 250 tons of asbestos within its framework. PCBs and asbestos were routinely used in shipbuilding before the materials were globally banned in the late 1970s. The EPA defines PCBs as a known human carcinogen. Exposure to asbestos can lead to the fatal respiratory illness asbestosis.
Environmental organizations fear the dismantling of such ships – which is done primarily in India, China and Bangladesh – expose workers to undue amounts of toxins, while simultaneously releasing the contaminants into nearby groundwater and soil.
Dr. Anil Sharma, founder and president of Global Shipping LLC, told India-West the SS Oceanic, purchased on speculation by his company, was not headed for scrapping in India, but was instead scheduled to be sold to buyers either in Macau or Dubai.
The SS Oceanic was heading either to Singapore or Dubai, said Sharma. Asked where the ship was now, Sharma said he could not confirm or deny the whereabouts of the ship.
Global Shipping LLC purchased the SS Oceanic last year from Norwegian Cruise Lines. It remained berthed at a dock in San Francisco until Feb. 8, when Global Shipping hired the tugboat Pacific Hickory to tow the Oceanic from California to a location outside the U.S.
The EPA and the non-profit Basel Action Network believe the ship is headed for Alang, a port near Ahmedabad, in Gujarat. Older ships are routinely scrapped at Alang, and sold for their highly-valued steel.
The Basel Convention prohibits Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member states from exporting hazardous waste for any reason, including recycling.
“Federal law prohibits companies from exporting PCBs, including those in ships, that are sent overseas to be scrapped,” said Rich Vaille, EPA’s Pacific Southwestern region associate director for waste program enforcement.
“When companies illegally export PCB waste, they are circumventing U.S. requirements for proper disposal. PCB waste must be properly disposed to protect public health and the environment,” said Vaille in a statement, citing the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.
EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi told India-West, “We are focusing on the fact that the Oceanic needed to be cleaned of PCBs and asbestos before being scrapped. No ship owner should try to move a ship without getting EPA clearance first.”
The EPA was not informed by Global Shipping of their intent to export the ship for disposal, said Higuchi, adding the agency had not been able to inspect the ship to declare it free of PCBs and asbestos.
Global Shipping’s Sharma said notifying the EPA was not necessary to move a ship. “The EPA never phoned us or checked in on the intended use of the ship before filing their complaint,” he said.
Global Shipping has responded to the EPA’s complaint, denying all allegations and questioning why the company was singled out for a practice that is routine within the industry.
Jim Puckett, director of the Seattle, Wash.-based Basel Action Network, told India-West 129 old ships were scrapped in India last year.
The organization says workers, who are paid as little as $2 a day, are exposed to all sorts of hazards, lacking the hardware or knowledge to properly dismantle the ships.
“Terrible health risks abound in the breaking yards,” said Puckett. A 2006 government survey of Alang shipyard workers concluded one in six workers showed symptoms of asbestosis.
The Indian Supreme Court last September ordered a committee representing several branches of government to verify that ships beaching in Alang be free of toxic substances. It then reversed itself later that month, allowing the French ocean liner, Le Clemenceau, to be dismantled there. That ship was believed to be carrying 1,200 tons of PCBs.
By SUNITA SOHRABJI
India-West Staff Reporter