Vaiju Naravane

"It contains over 500 tonnes of asbestos"

Paris: Once the pride and joy of the French navy, the decommissioned aircraft-carrier, Clemenceau, on Saturday began its final journey to India amid fresh allegations that the ship contains upwards of 500 tonnes of asbestos and that the French authorities and SDIC (Ship Decommissioning Industry Corporation) - the Panamanian-registered company that acquired the ship - failed to remove as much of the hazardous material as they could have.

The ship is bound for the ship-breaking yard at Alang in Gujarat. The steel from the ship is estimated at eight million euros (Rs. 40 crores).

The French Government claims that the ship contains an estimated 160 tonnes of asbestos, 115 tonnes of which it says it has removed. This has been contested by several environmental activists. "They are lying," Annie Thébaud-Mony of Ban Asbestos, who is also a director of research at INSERM (the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research), told The Hindu .

The French Defence Ministry spokesman Jean Francois Bureau told journalists: "We have removed all visible, friable and accessible asbestos and we have just left the minimum necessary for the ship to be towed."

More asbestos

In an interview to The Hindu , Jean-Claude Gianino, the head of Technopure, the company whose services were retained to carry out the decontamination of the ship, decided to break the confidentiality clause in his contract with SDIC on moral grounds.

In a far-reaching interview with The Hindu he said: "The first detailed note I received from SDIC on the state of the Clemenceau indicated there was at least 200 tonnes of asbestos on board. My company has removed 70 tons of material from the ship for which we have proof from the landfill. A lot more than 115 tonnes could have been removed without damaging the structure or the seaworthiness of the ship. For instance, the funnel, lateral catapults and other areas of the ship could have been cleaned out or dismantled as could the decks - 30,000 square feet - without jeopardising the ship's structure. The estimation of my engineers is that there is far, far more asbestos on board than anyone could imagine. I can say with certainty that the ship contains over 500 tonnes of asbestos. And once dismantling begins that could go up to 1,000 tonnes."

Mr. Gianino's remarks call into question repeated assertions by the French Government and by SDIC, the private company who acquired the Clemenceau for 100,000 euros, that altogether the ship contained no more than 160 tonnes of asbestos of which 115 tonnes have been removed.

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