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Warship stunt rings scrap alarm
- Greenpeace protest highlights dangers of asbestos carriers

New Delhi, Dec. 13: Three Greenpeace activists clambered aboard a decommissioned warship in France to protest plans to send the vessel ' riddled with asbestos, a hazardous substance ' to India to be broken down into scrap.

The protest came as the NGO accused Delhi of allowing in hazardous foreign ships for breaking and recycling. They alleged this violated international rules governing trade in hazardous wastes, a charge India denies.

Ships often have asbestos in their structure. When they are “scrapped” at ship-breaking yards, the asbestos dust ' a cancer-causing agent ' seriously endangers the workers’ health.

The French government intends to send the aircraft carrier, Clemenceau, to India to be broken down into 22,000 tonnes of scrap metal.

Yesterday, three protesters jumped from small boats into the hull of the 44-year-old ship, kept in the Mediterranean port of Toulon after being mothballed in 1997. They climbed onto the radar platform at the top of the ship’s superstructure.

Two of the protesters later left but one was still camped out on the ship today.

Seven campaigners had earlier climbed up a crane in the dockyard and unfurled a banner reading: “Asbestos carrier: not here, nor elsewhere.”

Greenpeace said its stunt was meant to urge Paris to remove the asbestos itself instead of sending the carrier to India.

Greenpeace and other environment groups yesterday released documents that purportedly show that the Indian environment ministry had earlier ignored warnings from Copenhagen about hazardous ships.

The Danish government had written to the ministry in April and May that two ships, carrying asbestos in their insulation, had set sail for Indian ship-breaking yards. It asked Delhi not to allow the ships to be dismantled and to send them back to be stripped of their hazardous waste.

But the ships, renamed en route, were allowed to end up in Indian ship-breaking yards, activists said, in violation of the Basel Convention that India had signed in 1990. Under that convention, trade in hazardous material should be accompanied by a Form 7 issued by the country of export, they said.

“Denmark was actually asking India not to accept the ship,” said Madhumita Dutta, an activist tracking ship-breaking for several years. “But India allowed them in.”

A senior environment ministry official denied that the convention was violated and said there are “contradictory views” on what constitutes waste. “What Denmark considers waste, we do not consider a waste.”

The official added that the ministry had written to Denmark that India had appropriate environment management practices to handle the ships when they arrived for breaking and recycling.

But a Central Pollution Control Board inspection of the ship-breaking yard earlier this year had reported that workers were ill equipped to handle the asbestos expected to be generated from the ships.

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