Chasing `ghost' ships

NEW DELHI Nov. 13. Even as the British Government refuses to allow a planned operation to undertake the breaking of a naval ship from the United States that arrived at a U.K. port on Wednesday, Britain, it has been revealed, is sending its vessels to India for such dismantling. This is in contravention of international agreements and in breach of the national laws of India. While the controversy rages in Europe over the "ghost ships", are Britain and other European countries transporting their own old ships to developing countries in violation of the Basel Convention?

The Greenpeace flagship, `Rainbow Warrior', has tracked the end-of-life vessel `Genova Bridge' to Alang in Gujarat — the world's largest ship-breaking yard. Activists of the environmental group have demanded that the British owners and authorities ensure that toxic materials on board the ship be removed safely and taken back to England for disposal. The organisation has informed the Ministry of Environment and Forests about the violation of the international convention that is involved.

The ship-breaking campaigner, Ramapati Kumar, said on board the `Rainbow Warrior' at Alang: "This is a classic case of double standards. While the U.K. authorities don't want U.S. waste in their backyard, they are happy to dump illegally their own elsewhere — failing to ensure safe removal of toxic substances and safe conditions for the workers in the developing world. We demand that the U.K. Government apply the same international rules to their illegal export of toxic ships to India, as they apply to the illegal import of the `ghost fleet' to the U.K."

The international community has recognised that environmental pollution from ship-breaking is a matter of serious concern but fails to address the issue seriously. End-of-life ships constitute scrap, which means that their export is regulated under the Basel Convention. The international maritime authorities do not accept the notion that end-of-life ships constitute waste material, Mr. Kumar said.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is not only failing to protect the environment around, and the hapless workers in, the ship-breaking yards but is trying to expel Greenpeace from the body. A Greenpeace spokesperson said: "The inability of the IMO to address this issue conclusively is no longer acceptable. When the IMO's General Assembly meets later this month, it needs to conclude that the illegal export of toxic end-of-life-ships will be stopped. Any other conclusion will show the inability of the IMO in dealing with marine and environmental issues. It should also reverse its decision to expel Greenpeace. Failure to do so will be a clear demonstration that the organisation is more interested in listening to the vested interests of the shipping industry rather than the voice which is trying to ensure the protection of the environment and human lives."

`Rainbow Warrior' is in India on a corporate accountability tour, in an attempt to expose corporations that are committing crimes against nature and humanity. The first phase of the tour focusses on the ship-breaking activity at Alang.

Greenpeace International has had observer status at the IMO since 1991. At its council meeting in June, the IMO decided to expel it following complaints from some member-states on its protest activities.