Civil Society Fights Back! 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The action of NGOs and concerned citizens in Europe and Asia were pivotal in deciding the fate of asbestos-contaminated ships, the Clemenceau1 and the SS Norway, which were sent to Asia for decommissioning by European owners. The saga of the Clemenceau was brought to a successful conclusion on February 15, 2006 when the highest court in France (Le Conseil d'Etat) ordered the government to suspend the transfer of the ship; the same day President Chirac announced that the 27,000 tonne ship, then in the Arabian Sea, would be brought back to France. He pledged that France would work with its European partners to develop a program for decontaminating end-of-life vessels in Europe before eventually scrapping them in Asia.

Throughout the winter, NGOs with a variety of diverse interests cooperated in the attempt to force a U-turn by the French Government. In France, Ban Asbestos France, ANDEVA2 and the Anti-Asbestos Committee at Juisseau University, the groups which had lost the judicial battle, kept up the pressure in the media. Efforts by international bodies, including Greenpeace, the Basel Action Network, the Corporate Accountability Desk (India), the European Federation for Transport and Environment, the North Sea Foundation, Bellona, the International Ban Asbestos Network, the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat and the International Federation of Human Rights, brought news of the Clemenceau debacle to a wider audience. On January 17, 2006, representatives of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking met with D. Giotakos and other cabinet members of the EU Environment Commission. Two weeks later, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told journalists that the export of the Clemenceau violated EU legislation and could have both legal and financial consequences for the offending government. Commissioner Dimas also said: “A thorough decontamination of hazardous waste should take place in the EU before sending the vessels to shipbreaking yards in developing countries.”

On February 19, 2006, the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OHSE) announced that the SS Norway, built in 1960 and containing an estimated 1,250 tonnes of asbestos products, would not be scrapped in Bangladesh. The OSHE campaign to prevent the purchase of the SS Norway by a Bangladeshi ship-breaking company included a petition to the Government, a public demonstration in Dhaka (February 12) and press statements to raise awareness of the toxic nature of the ship. Protests by other NGOs, which received media coverage, added to the pressure on shipyard owners and the government. On February 15, dozens of environmentalists formed a human chain to protest plans to dismantle the ship at the Giri Subedar Ship-breaking yard near the southern city of Chittagong. On February 16, Tariqul Islam, Environment Minister of Bangladesh, ordered the navy and coastgaurd to ensure the ship stayed out of Bangladeshi waters and instructed the Central Bank and customs department not to issue an import order for the ship saying: “Based on the information we have gathered, we've decided to ban the ship from entering our waters.” On February 17, 2006, the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association confirmed that no member organization would purchase the contaminated ship.

Whilst the fate of the Clemenceau and the SS Norway seems settled, this issue will be revisited hundreds if not thousands of times a year with other ships. Governments and shipowners from industrialized nations must accept that the dumping of their toxic waste in the developing world will no longer be tolerated.

February 21, 2006


1 See: Le Clemenceau: Action and Reaction

2 ANDEVA: the French association representing asbestos victims.



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