“The Love Boat”

13 Jan 2006

According to the latest press news, the Norway (ex-France) Ocean liner will be sent to the ship breakers; instead of Bangladesh it could be sent to Alang beach in India. Before being towed to Port Kedang in Malaysia the 23rd of May 2005 where she is waiting for the final decision from the owner, Genting Corporation (which is the largest financial group of Malaysia), the Norway was docked for 18 months at Bremerhaven in Germany (1). Public opinion, the Green Party, ecologist movements and the German Authorities were not interested in her fate. This endangered masterpiece was guarded in Germany by a Nepalese crew of 45. The Norway is a masterpiece in danger but also a health, a medical and an environmental hazard: one of the engine rooms of the Norway blew up causing a deadly explosion which happened in May 2003, spreading the asbestos from the insulation at least to the third bridge of the ship. The Norway is a double victim of the asbestos pollution : she suffered the “passive” pollution from the fire protection, and heat insulations, but also from an “active” pollution due to the explosion. Despite the foggy image left hanging in illusion by her owner in the direction of a re-conversion, nobody ever really believed in any other destination for the Norway except the ship breakers’; for this temple of asbestos, the Basel Convention, the pre-treatment and the extraction of the other hazardous substances and pollutants such as the PCB’s (Polychlorinated biphenyls) were never addressed.

On the contrary, the ecologists groups and the press threw themselves and thrived on the Clémenceau and do not take into account the exceptional and positive side of the voluntary pre-cleaning of the Clémenceau and the collective measures taken in India by the ship breaking industry which is looking at improving the practice of this trade and of metal recycling in general.

There is in the Clémenceau “affair” a very biased attitude which is contradictory with the “uniform” application of Conventions and International Practices. The procedure applied to the ex-aircraft carrier is an industrial reference, a starting point which needs to be perfected and applied to 700… and in the future more than 1000 Merchant vessels which go or will be going to the ship breakers’ each year. To date, the supplementary requirement on the pre cleaning are counter productive. This sensationalism could lead ship owners to technical blockage and could encourage vicious adverse effects like the return of sinking and or abandoning of ships at the end of their life without any form of treatment.

On the contrary the Clémenceau points to a new phase of transition on shipbreaking. A transition between unacceptable historical practice and an International Convention which the most optimistic of us think it will not enter into force before 2008. Obviously the Clémenceau process should apply to the Norway, notwithstanding the destination.


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