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Risk of toxic leaks by US ghost fleet due for UK disposal

12th September 2003

Friend of the Earth

A United States Marine Administration (MARAD) document obtained by Friends of the Earth reveals that a number of the toxic `ghost ships' that British company Able UK wants to bring from the States to Teesside for disposal [1] have been classified as having the highest possible risk of hull leakage [2] (see table below), with the others being rated as high to medium risk. The first two boats in the 13-ship fleet, which are heavily polluted with asbestos, oil and PCBs, could leave US waters within days.

Reports reveal that over 500,000 gallons of oil and fuel still remain on the ships. Furthermore, the disposal contract highlights serious concerns by requiring that "an oil spill management company shall be retained during the vessel towing operations" and that when it arrives in Teesside equipment must be available "in the event of oil discharging from the vessels".

Further documents obtained by Friends of the Earth show that The Donner (a category 2 risk, and destined for Teesside) has already leaked and created an oil slick in the James River. Consequently the US Government paid $2 million to pump oil from the vessels, hence the relatively low tonnage remaining. Other official US documents obtained by Friends of the Earth include a report from the Office of the Inspector General (US Department of Transport) which says of the ships:

US law requires MARAD to prioritise for scrapping those ships "that pose the most immediate threat to the environment.” [4].

Friends of the Earth's legal adviser has written to Robin Middleton, the UK Secretary of State for Transport's representative at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (SOSREP) urging him to exercise his powers to the fullest possible extent so as to avoid the potential environmental consequences that could arise if these ships leak or break up in UK waters. In particular Friends of the Earth has urged that these ships be refused entry until a full environmental impact assessment has been carried out and a dry dock for their storage has been approved and built.

Friends of the Earth says that these documents are damning evidence of the risks these ships pose to wildlife and tourism around the British coast, and has sent copies to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency which will shortly make a decision on whether the boats can enter UK waters.

Mike Childs, Campaigns Director at Friends of the Earth, said:

"The toxic ghost fleet must not enter British waters. These documents reveal the massive risk posed to environment and the tourism industry. The Maritime & Coastguard Agency must carry out its duties to the marine environment and ban these ships from our shores."

Please note

1. US authorities have given permission for the first two boats to leave US waters. The ships could set sail (they are being towed) within days despite the fact that Hartlepool Borough Council have yet to give permission for the dry dock to be built. Council officials are expected to announce today (Friday) whether they will insist on an Environmental Impact Assessment into the building of the dry dock and the use of the basin for scrapping these ships. The UK coastguard has also not given permission for the boats to enter UK waters.

2. The report was unearthed by Virginian investigative reporter Scott Harper of the Virginian Pilot. The document and contact for Scott Harper can be obtained from the press office.

3. Report of the Office of the Inspector General (MA-2000-067, March 10 2000)

Click hereto download above Report of the Office of the Inspector General pdf (2.31MB) from current (ECBC) web site

Ships coming to Teesside

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[4] National Maritime Heritage Act Section 6

Contact details:

Friends of the Earth
26-28 Underwood St.
N1 7JQ

Tel: 020 7490 1555
Fax: 020 7490 0881


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