Entry denied to decommissioned US warship: Platinum-II

After deliberating for almost a month the Indian authorities have finally decided to deny entry to Platinum-II which served as a US warship under the name SS Oceanic or the SS Independence and was destined to be dismantled in India at the end of its service life.

The Indian ministry of environment and forests in a report said that the inspection of Platinum-II revealed that the ship was laden with toxic material including asbestos and cancer causing Poly Chlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) though not in loose form but as part of the components in the ship. The report also raised concerns that the ship has been brought into India with false documentation. A team inspected the ship on October 19 and 20 and submitted its report to the ministry on 26 October. The ministry as a response issued an office memorandum to the state.

The memorandum said, “It has been brought to the notice of the ministry of environment and forests that the ship violated United States Toxic Substances Control Act and an order has been passed by the US Environment Protection Authority against the owners of the ship.” It also pointed out that there have also been allegations that the ship has been brought into India with a falsified flag and registry. It asked the Gujarat Maritime Board to look into the case of falsified ownership of the ship that had come under the scanner of the government and the civil society recently.

The ship had arrived in Indian waters last month but after serious concerns from different interest groups Indian government blocked the entry of the ship to the Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujrat on western coast of India.

Alang which is also known as the “graveyard of ships” is the largest ship-breaking facility in Asia. The irony of situation is that the workers here at huge risk of exposure to toxins as the operations are largely manual. The workers work with basic tools to dismantle large ships posing grave threat to their personal as well as environmental security.

Environment campaigners as well as civil liberty organizations have been demanding closure of the shipyard for years and they have welcomed the current decision.

The order is a victory in the fight against toxic trafficking and dumping on third world countries,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a member organisation of the coalition group, Indian Platform on Shipbreaking.

Until now, India has been reluctant to expose the horrors of its ship-breaking industry. Hopefully they are beginning to realise that this industry is not worth the legacy of toxic waste, occupational disease and death, and illegality it leaves in its wake.

In 2006, the French government had to recall a similar decommissioned aircraft carrier Clemenceau after a lengthy campaign by Greenpeace and other environmental groups who claimed that the ship contained huge amounts of toxic chemicals, including asbestos.

A 2006 study initiated by the Government of India indicated that one out of six workers at Alang, showed signs of asbestos poisoning.

It said many of the workers tested showed early signs of asbestosis – an incurable disease of the lungs.

Activists say the yards are not equipped to handle asbestos.

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