Sunday, April 02, 2006


Ghost ships may leave limbo


The Guardian
By John Vidal
March 31, 2006

All 4 in dock, Compass Island, Canopus, Canisteo and Caloosahatchee.

The four hulks list slightly in a deserted dock at Hartlepool, Cleveland, next to a nuclear power station - 70,000 tonnes of rusting metal, flaking paint and toxins waiting in ecological purgatory for a decision about their fate.

The Caloosahatchee, Canisteo, Canopus and Compass Island, all former US naval reserve ships which served in the second world war, Korea or Vietnam, have a combined age of over 220. This "ghost fleet" has not moved an inch in the 18 months since the ships were towed across the Atlantic to the Able UK yard to be scrapped.

Since then, a Commons inquiry, and numerous reports from government agencies and Hartlepool council, as well as court cases on both sides of the Atlantic, have been unable to resolve the issue. The vessels cannot be moved, but nor can they be recycled.

But yesterday the red tape was slightly loosened as the government proposed a new strategy to handle waste ships.

It recommends that all decommissioned British warships and commercial vessels should no longer be sent to developing countries, where they may be scrapped in appalling conditions. Instead recycling yards in Britain and Europe should be built or improved, and the global system of ship recycling should be tightened.

"Significant changes must be made if government-owned and commercial ships are to be recycled in acceptable conditions," said the environment minister, Ben Bradshaw, as he launched the consultation yesterday. "In some countries workers can be exposed to an extremely dangerous environment. Poor conditions can lead to significant pollution."

Caloosahatchee and Canisteo in the Able UK dock.

On current estimates, there are approximately 30 military vessels scheduled to be scrapped in the next eight years and nearly 400 EU-flagged ships which will require recycling within five. But no one could say yesterday what would become of the four rustbuckets in Hartlepool or whether nine other US reserve ships which are part of the same contract would now be sent over from the US.

The US marine administration has said there is no chance of their coming until the Able UK shipyard is fully licensed.

Bob Pailor, environment manager for the Environment Agency, said the delay was not insurmountable. "We are not opposed in general terms, but ... we cannot agree to developments without full understanding of potential adverse effects."

Two years ago, local opinion was mostly against the old ships. But others, including Peter Mandelson, then Hartlepool MP and now EU trade commissioner, argued it would provide much needed work. Now it is much the same. "They can't take them away, and they can't keep them here," said Philip McKie, a Hartlepool salesman. "Someone will have to do something, or they'll just sink - like they were supposed to be doing in America."


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