Vaiju Naravane

"SDIC wanted only a cover-up, did not intend doing serious job."

PARIS: Technopure, the company engaged to carry out decontamination of the decommissioned French aircraft-carrier, Clemenceau, told The Hindu that it had ended its contract with SDIC (Ship Decommissioning Industry Corporation), the Panama-registered company that acquired the ship.

Jean-Claude Gianino, head of Technopure confirmed that his company had made two proposals to SDIC for cleaning the ship.

The first contract - a quotation for three million euros - proposed superficial decontamination, while the second contract for 6 million euros proposed major decontamination work. The French Government and the SDIC chose the cheaper option.

He also confirmed that his company had finally ended its contract with the SDIC. "Our contract stipulated that we would set up an industrial process for decontamination in India according to the norms prevalent in France. We were to train Indian engineers for that purpose. But not a single engineer turned up despite repeated requests. I realised that the SDIC wanted only a cover up and had no intention of doing a serious job. We therefore ended the contract."

Detailed analysis

Eric Baudon, sales and project manager of Technopure told The Hindu in an exclusive interview: "We have made a fairly detailed analysis of the ship and I can give you a list of the asbestos that could have been removed without much difficulty. These items have no bearing on the structure or the navigability of the ship. There is glue with asbestos and paint with asbestos known as Bitumastic and Bitulatex. The floors are covered with it and there is at least 125 tonnes of asbestos on the floors alone. There are three hundred tonnes of cables that contain both lead and asbestos. These too could have been removed with no damage to the structure. The boilers are full of asbestos - between 70 to 100 tonnes. The collectors on top of the boilers and the pipes within the funnels are also full of asbestos and could have been safely removed."

The French Navy and the SDIC have tried to insist that they are setting up "an industrial process that could be replicated in other countries whereby asbestos could be safely and scientifically removed with full protection of the environment and the workers."

Richard Moisy, technical director of SDIC told The Hindu in Toulon that he had "full confidence in the Luthra Group and Shree Ram Scrap Vessels Pvt. Ltd. who are to carry out the decontamination work in India."

His assessment was contested by Mr. Gianino who said he had visited Alang and was appalled by the conditions of work and the cavalier attitude towards industrial safety displayed by shipyard owners and others he came into contact with.

Greenpeace told to keep off

AFP adds from Toulon: The Clemenceau on Saturday began the first stage of its final voyage to the Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujarat after a court reportedly ordered the environmental group Greenpeace to keep clear of the ship.

The aircraft carrier left the quay at the Toulon military arsenal without incident, and marine boats set up a 200-metre security cordon as a helicopter and a navy plane guarded the skies.

Officials said the carrier would be taken out of the harbour by several tugs, before being towed to Alang. It was expected to arrive in India in two months' time.

SDIC said it had obtained an injunction from the Paris court preventing Greenpeace from coming closer than 300 metres to the old aircraft carrier. The claim could not be confirmed with the court.

Greepeace and three other environmental 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 fatal lung diseases. A French court on Friday ruled that the four groups had raised "no serious doubts" about the legality of the Clemenceau's transfer.

Another environmental group, Robin des Bois (Robin Hood), said France had taken an important step in carrying out 90 per cent 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.