Thursday, 17 May 2012

Supreme Court bans former "Exxon Valdez" from entering Indian breaker's yards

                                              Exxon Valdez spill , 1989

India's apex Supreme Court has banned the 'Oriental Nicety'- the Exxon Valdez in a previous notorious avatar- from entering the country's ports, saying the ship should have been decontaminated first. The ship was in Indian waters headed for Alang, Gujarat to be scrapped when the Court asked that its voyage be stopped 'midway.' The Exxon Valdez was involved in the second biggest US oil spill in history back in 1989. Authorities in Gujarat, including the pollution control department, have now "withdrawn permission" for the vessel to be anchored at Alang for dismantling.   

The Supreme Court asked the Government to take action after an environmentalist group filed a Public Interest Litigation against the ship being allowed to be broken up in India. Activists have long alleged that ship breakers in India ignore safety, exposing workers and the environment to toxic materials. The Research and Science Foundation (RSF) claimed that the Oriental Nicety had changed names many times to distance it from the 1989 disaster- the Exxon Valdez, Exxon Mediterranean, Sea River Mediterranean, S/R Mediterranean, Mediterranean, and Dong Fang Ocean.- before been bought by a subsidiary of Priya Blue Industries based in Gujarat for dismantling.. 

The Supreme Court has now issued notices to the Shipping Ministry to inform it about the steps it has taken to cut short the "Oriental Nicety's" voyage. RSF lawyer Sanjay Parikh told reporters that the vessel was a "trespasser as she doesn’t have the sanction to berth” at any breaker's facilities. 

RSF alleges that the Indian government is slack in applying the Basel Convention laws to ship breaking. India is a signatory to that convention, which lays down norms for the minimisation of generation of hazardous wastes, and calls that toxic wastes be disposed “as close to the source of generation as possible”. The Supreme Court had said in 2007 that the authorities should ensure that a vessel arriving for dismantling be free of any hazardous material, including radioactive material, and that the pollution control boards should confirm she is "properly decontaminated". Mercury, arsenic, asbestos and residual oil are common contaminants found aboard ships.

RCF's Parikh claims that the Court's 2007 directive has been largely ignored, including in this case. “Though it has not yet been allowed to berth in any of the ports, the ship, which is alleged to be contaminated, has entered Indian waters without taking proper steps for decontamination in the port of export,” he said.

The Gujarat company that hoped to dismantle the former Exxon Valdez will appeal the Supreme Court ruling. "We will abide with the Supreme Court order. We are studying the order, and will appeal," said Harshadbhai Padia, a partner in the company.


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