Clemenceau Debacle Rumbles On!
Just when the French Government thought it had rid itself of the toxic hot potato called Hull Q790,1 formerly the iconic French warship Le Clemenceau, up popped a feisty bunch of British activists to throw a spanner in the works. Objecting to the idea of their town becoming Europe's toxic toilet, in September 2008 the Friends of Hartlepool mounted a judicial challenge to the UK Government's decision to allow the import of a ship containing 700+ tonnes of asbestos and 330 tonnes of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Campaigner Jean Kennedy said:
We feel that it is a deep injustice to force our small town which has already disproportionately suffered the ill-effects of polluting industries and has one of the highest cancer rates in the UK to accept France's toxic waste.2
On June 26, 2008, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had granted Able UK Ltd. of Teesside an exemption to the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 which would allow it to import the asbestos-contaminated vessel into the UK in order to dismantle the ship at their Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre in Hartlepool.3 This exemption was granted after assurances that the highest possible environmental standards would be maintained had been given by Able not only to the HSE but to relevant trade unions and the TUC.
In the aftermath of the HSE's decision, French ban asbestos campaigners communicated their concerns claiming there were serious questions about the tender submitted by Able UK to the (French) Ministry of Defense. Able's 2 million Euro bid for the dismantling contract significantly undercut tenders from European companies Veolia Proprete et Sitia, Galloo Recycling and Simont which were in the region of €20-30 million.4 As one veteran French campaigner asked, how could the decontamination and dismantling of a 27,000 tonne warship, which at 238 meters long is the biggest ship recycling project so far handled by any European yard,5 cost the same as the asbestos decontamination of a small building in France. On behalf of Ban Asbestos France, Professor Annie Thebaud-Mony stated:
We are really concerned about what will be done by Able UK regarding Le Clemenceau. It is impossible in safe conditions to undertake the shipbreaking of the Clemenceau for €2 million except if the shipbreaking conditions common in Asian shipyards are imported to Europe. We are afraid of the subcontracting which might be part of Able's plans as we have seen similar schemes operating in French shipyards which include exploiting casual workers from Eastern or Southern European countries to undertake this dangerous work.
In a July 2008 Press Release, Able had announced that the Clemenceau would arrive at its yard in Graythorp later this summer; in September, Able agreed to delay the sailing of the ship until the case brought by the Hartlepool campaigners is heard. For now, the Clemenceau remains in its home port of Brest, in northwestern France.
Ordinarily it would take months to secure a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice (London) but, accepting the urgency of the situation, the High Court expedited the process and set a date of September 29, 2008 for the urgent consideration of the application by the Friends of Hartlepool to obtain a judicial review of the HSE's decision to permit the ship to be scrapped in the UK.6 Solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers believes this is a landmark case:
This legal challenge raises significant public-interest environmental issues and is a case where the HSE have clearly failed to follow their own policy on granting exemptions to Health and Safety legislation. When (as in this case), the facilities exist within France to dispose of the toxic waste aboard the Clemenceau, the HSE has a duty to consider these alternatives before allowing the ship and its carcinogenic cargo to be imported and disposed of in communities across North-East England.
The preliminary hearing before a Senior Judge7 which is expected to last less than an hour will be attended by legal representatives of the Friends of Hartlepool and Able UK, as well as local campaigners and HSE representatives.
September 17, 2008
In his September 29, 2008 judgment, Mr Justice Willkie refused permission for a judicial review of a decision taken by the Health And Safety Executive which allows Able UK to import the asbestos-contaminated ship, formerly known as the Clemenceau, into the UK for scrapping. An application for permission to appeal this decision has been submitted to the Court of Appeal.
October 14, 2008
On Thursday, November 13, 2008, the Court of Appeal gave a full hearing to the issues advanced by Hartlepoool residents who objected to the decomissioning of the Clemenceau by Able UK at its Teeside facility. Lord Justices Rix, Dyson and Jackson rejected the environmental campaigners' bid for a judicial review. Although activist Jean Kennedy pledged that "the fight goes on," it is hard to see what steps remain to prevent Able UK from ordering the ship to set sail for UK waters.8
November 15, 2008
The Clemenceau arrived at Able Uk's Graythorpe site near Seaton Carew on February 8, 2009.
March 15, 2009
1 Kazan-Allen L. The Clemenceau Comes Home. May 21, 2006.
2 PIL launch High Court Challenge to Stop Toxic French Ship Being Brought to the UK.
4 L'Angleterre pour ultime voyage. (England for the last voyage). July 2, 2008. www.varmatin.com page 6.
5 Able Press Release. Major Recycling Contract Proves TERRC Potential. July 1, 2008
Information received from other sources suggest that the Able bid was €4 million for 10 months work; others bids estimated that it would take 60 people 2-3 years to properly decontaminate the ship and would cost €35-50 million.
6 Cordner C. Court Bid to Sink Le Clem. September 12, 2008.
7 A court order of September 4, 2008, which accepted the need to forestall the ship sailing to the UK, stipulated that a Senior Judge must preside over the September 29th hearing.
8 Watson P. Way cleared for Le Clem. November 14, 2008.Hartlepool Mail.