November 2, 2003

MARAD "ghost fleet" disposal hits a snag

MARAD's efforts to dispose of ships from the James River "ghost fleet" hit another snag last week. With four ships under tow to Britain's Able UK for disposal, the U.K. Environment Agency said that authorizations issued to allow dismantling and recovery of former U.S. naval ships at its facility in Hartlepool are invalid. The problem appears to be that the authorizations were granted on the basis that the ships would be dismantled in dry dock and that Able UK does not yet have all the necessary permissions for this in place from the multiplicity of agencies involved.

MARAD says it "is aware of issues raised in a recent statement released by the U.K. Environment Agency and remains committed to responsible ship disposal solutions involving partners in the United States and abroad. As we work toward a resolution of these issues between the U.K. Environment Agency and Able UK, the ships will continue to transit the Atlantic."

"Prior to the ships' departure," notes a MARAD statement, "MARAD sought and received official approvals from the U.K. Environment Agency, the U.K Maritime Coastguard Agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S .Coast Guard. Without these official approvals in hand, these ships would not have departed their James River moorings. Additionally, MARAD implemented all towing safety recommendations required by the insurance carrier, the oceangoing tug company, and an independent marine surveyor prior to the voyage."

The UK Environment Agency announcement gives a mind-numbing insight into the complexity of environmental protection on both sides of the Atlantic. According to the Environment Agency, the allegedly now invalid authorizations relate to transfrontier shipment (TFS) of waste for recovery and a modification of Able's waste management license to increase the amount of waste materials permitted on the Hartlepool site.

The TFS approval was issued on an assumption that all relevant permissions could be in place for dry dock dismantling. The waste management license modification was also granted to Able on the same assumption, the Agency's assessment of environmental risk having concluded that dry dock working would not give rise to any significant effect.

It has become clear, continued the Environment Agency, that several permissions and plans, including planning permission, are not in place and that dry dock working cannot be enforced. In addition, legal advice has confirmed that a license modification cannot be used to increase the amount of waste permitted on site. A new licence would be required with new quantity limits in place. "Therefore the Agency's legal advice has confirmed that the company's approvals are invalid."

"Given the change to the waste management licence, the other outstanding permissions required and the planning permission situation, the Agency has advised Able that it should consider its position regarding the handling of the U.S. ships."

Craig McGarvey, Environment Agency Area Manager, said: "The Environment Agency's priority is to make sure that the environment is protected and that all the legal requirements are complied with. If, in the future, all the environmental and planning requirements are met, there is no reason why dismantling and recovery of ships should not take place at the Able site."

Peter Stephenson, managing director of Able UK, in a statement reported in the U.K. press on Friday, said that "we do remain satisfied that we have relevant planning permissions in place for the recycling of the vessels and the creation of dry dock facilities."

"We have applied for approvals from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in relation to work on the dry dock facilities, covering matters such as dredging. Given that similar approvals have been given in the past, we are confident these will be in place by mid-November."

Meantime, U.K. environmentalists have been less than happy with the whole plan, and it is certain that they will continue vigorous and vocal opposition.

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