French court okays asbestos warship's transfer to India
Updated: 2005-12-31 15:50
A French court paved the way for a decommissioned warship insulated with
asbestos to be sent for scrapping in India, after rejecting petitions by
campaigners trying to block its transfer.
A judge at the Paris administrative court ruled that the four groups had
raised "no serious doubts" about the legality of the aircraft-carrier
Clemenceau's transfer for decontamination in a shipyard in India.
French authorities were waiting for the legal green light to tow the ship,
currently docked at the French naval base of Toulon, to Alang in northwestern
India, home to the world's biggest ship-breaking yard.
"In theory, the Clemenceau can leave," said Joel Alquezar, who represented
the French state in court.
Environmentalist group Greenpeace and three anti-asbestos groups have tried
for months to block the operation, on the grounds that Indian shipyard workers
are not properly protected from the hazards of working with asbestos, which can
cause a form of lung cancer.
The groups reject the state's assessment of the amount of asbestos still left
inside the Clemenceau, which they estimate at around 100 tonnes.
Body of the French decomissioned warship, the
Clemenceau, 29 December 2005. [AFP]
Lawyers for the campaigners insisted the fight was not over, and said they
were considering an appeal to the State Council, France's highest court --
although such an appeal would not prevent the ship's departure.
Marine authorities in Toulon said on Thursday the Clemenceau was ready to
leave as soon as it was authorised to do so.
"We may not be able to stop it from leaving, but the Clemenceau won't
necessarily make it all the way to India," said Michel Parigot, a leader of the
Jussieu and Andeva anti-asbestos groups, who said legal action may be taken in
The state's counsel Alquezar said the groups were wrongly creating "the
impression that India is a lawless state".
Briac Beilvert, chairman of the company charged with removing the asbestos
and dismantling the ship, Ship Decommissioning Industries (SDI), a
Panama-registered affiliate of German steel giant Thyssen-Krupp, also dismissed
the groups' fears.
He said he could "guarantee that workers' health will be taken into account,
whatever their nationality."
In the Clemenceau case, the campaigners also argued that the French state's
decision to export the mothballed ship violates rules on the handling of
But Paris says that the aircraft-carrier, although decommissioned, is a
warship and so not bound by the Bale convention of 1989 on the international
shipment of dangerous waste.
Almost half of the world's ships end up in India for dismantling after their
sailing lives are over, according to Greenpeace.
Greenpeace and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH)
charged in a report this month that countries which send ships for scrapping in
India and other Asian developing countries are condoning a poorly regulated
system that has claimed thousands of workers' lives.
Accidents, explosions and contamination from hazardous materials plague
workers in many ship-breaking yards, according to the report.
Despite a lack of official statistics, Greenpeace and the FIDH estimate that
several thousand people have died in accidents in ship-breaking yards over the
past 20 years, without counting deaths due to long-term contamination.
But another environmental group, Robin des Bois (Robin Hood), said the French
state had taken an important step in carrying out 90 percent of the asbestos
decontamination work itself, which it said was a first in European shipping.
The Clemenceau, which took part in the 1991 Gulf War, was taken out of
service in 1997 when it was superseded by France's new, nuclear-powered aircraft
carrier, the Charles de Gaulle.