“An international fugitive vessel”: IPOS
Ahmedabad, Oct. 16: As contradictory statements come out from within the Gujarat Government and even as Jairam Ramesh, Union Environment Minister, orders an enquiry into the affair, activists are enraged that a toxic US ship may be broken up at Alang. They claim that the vessel is contaminated with radioactive substances, poses a danger to the environment and worker health and want Washington to recall the vessel “in the same way that the French had recalled Le Clemenceau.”
Platinum II, a cruise ship reportedly bought by a Gujarat merchant, is today anchored waiting for clearance to beach at Alang, one of the largest shipbreaking locations in the world. Meanwhile, the Government of India has announced that a three member team will go to Alang early next week to investigate. The GOI is also trying to confirm ownership of the vessel.
Gopal Krishna of the watchdog NGO, Indian Platform on Shipbreaking (IPOS) calls the Platinum II an “international fugitive vessel. This 682 foot ocean liner is loaded with an estimated 210 tonnes of toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and an estimated 250 tonnes of asbestos as part of its construction, which is lethal to the health of the workers as well to the environment,” he said. IPOS is a coalition of environment, health, labour and human rights organisations. It alleges that the toxic PCB is present in the insulated wiring of the 18,503 tonne vessel, which has nine decks and a passenger capacity of more than a thousand. PCBs are known across the world for their cancer causing affects.
IPOS also accused the Gujarat Maritime Board and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board of having given clearances to the ship without proper inspection. They are demanding that the ship be sent back to the US for having broken international treaties like the Basel Convention, which regulates movement of hazardous substances between States and allows India to permit dismantling only if, as in this case, there is a bilateral deal between the US and India. No such deal exists.
Adding to the confusion, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board seems to have first submitted a report saying that there was nothing hazardous aboard “except asbestos and paint, both of which can be removed under Supreme Court guidelines”. S.K. Nanda, the State’s principal secretary, forests and environment, said that clearance had been given. “We have given the clearance as we have found nothing hazardous on Platinum II, which should be allowed to be dismantled at the Alang shipbreaking yard,” he had said. Later, however, a GPCB member said that clearances had not yet been given and that reports had been sent to “higher ups” to seek their opinion. Both the GPCB and the Maritime Board seem to be silent on the toxic PCB issue.
IPOS also alleges that the earlier owners of the Platinum II, Global Marketing Systems of the US, had been heavily fined by the US Environmental Protection Agency for attempting to export the ship without decontaminating it. They say that violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) promoted the fines: PCB export is banned under the TSCA.
Even as another incident in a series of controversial events at Alang plays out, a new twist emerges in this tale. Environmental groups have warned the media that attempts are being made by interested parties to get clearances to beach the toxic ship on ‘humanitarian grounds’ even now.