Monday, 9 July 2012

Is the ex-Exxon Valdez defying Supreme Court orders?

In a story still unfolding, the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) has let the MV Oriental N anchor six miles off the Bhavnagar coast around 0700 on Saturday. Officials have inspected the vessel. This despite protests from the environmental group-Toxics Watch Alliance that has gone to the Supreme Court to ban vessel- the former Exxon Valdez- from Indian waters, claiming it was toxic and hazardous. Gopal Krishna, the petitioner in the case, has now alleged that the GMB is acting against the Supreme Court order and that the ship's “movement must be halted to demonstrate that Indian law enforcement agencies are not subservient to US’s ship disposal policy”. 

Krishna’s petition to the Supreme Court had stated that the Basel Convention should be implemented in the case and the vessel be banned from Indian waters because there had been no prior decontamination. The Central government's response to the court was that it was up to the GMB to decide whether the Oriental N should be allowed into Alang for scrapping.  The Court had set another hearing before an "appropriate" bench for July 9. 

Media reports had said yesterday that the Gujarat Customs and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) would allow the controversial vessel to anchor, even as Krishna has written to a half dozen Union ministers and the CBI Director saying that the Supreme Court's orders are being violated. 

GMB official Captain S Chadha told reporters on June 29, “The Customs has given its no-objection certificate for inspection of the MV Oriental N. GPCB did so yesterday. The vessel is expected to arrive by tomorrow evening. It will anchor in sheltered water about three to four nautical miles from the shore, and an inspection team will most likely board and inspect it day after tomorrow.” 

In its letter to the CBI Director, Krishna says that the 'inspection' is just a pretext for allowing the vessel to anchor off Gujarat awaiting dismantling. Toxics Watch Alliance says that the vessel has aboard hazardous materials such as asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), creating grave danger to the ecology and worker's lives. “Workers labour on tidal sands to cut ships up by hand, exposing themselves to the risk of toxic chemicals, fires, explosions and falling steel plates,” Krishna said.

Toxics Watch says that the Supreme Court May 3 order was clear. “Inform this court as to the steps being taken to prevent the ship berthing in any of the ports in India without following the conditions indicated in the Basel Convention,” it quotes. Krishna also warned that another hazardous US flagged ship, the Delaware Trader, is en route to India. “It was last reported at the Port of Maputo, Mozambique on 13 June, 2012,” he said, and demanded that it be stopped from entering Indian waters immediately.

Krishna says that over 5,000 dead foreign ships had been broken up at Alang since 1982 at great cost to the environment, and asks that the government stop what he calls the “green washing “of sins by the US in South Asia."There is compelling logic for the Indian Coast Guards and Directorate General of Shipping to ensure that the ship moves out of Indian waters," he writes.

Indian news channel TimesNow had said last week that the Oriental N was "lurking" in international waters 12 miles offshore even as the coast guard and other experts worried about the possibility of the vessel sinking in the monsoon weather, causing environmental damage close to the coast. TimesNOW quoted a DGS circular from 2008 in its report. “Analysis of the accidents over the last 3 years showed a significant correlation between age of vessels and the break-downs which caused these casualties....the committee recommended, inter-alia, the revision of guidelines to restrict the age of vessels plying in Indian waters,” it claims the circular says.

"All agencies concerned with the maritime situation are aware and have questioned the ships presence off Mumbai. However, none have acted yet", the news channel concluded.

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