Friday, February 17, 2006

Death ship in dry dock

I don't know if it is comforting (as an American) or disheartening (as a public health professional and human being) to know that the US isn't always at the rock bottom of western industrialized countries in occupational health and safety. Like the US, other countries also feel free to encourage lethal work practices if they are profitable. The US and France disagreed about invading Iraq, but when it comes to invading workers' lungs they seem to be of the same mind.

Last week we noted the practice of sending asbestos-laden ships to the developing world to be broken up for salvage in ways that wouldn't be obstructed by health and safety protections found in industrialized countries like the US and western Europe. The outsourcing of lethal asbestos hazard has been the target of Greenpeace, Ban Asbestos France, the International Ban Asbestos Network, ANDEVA (the French association which represents asbestos victims) and the Anti-Asbestos Committee at Juisseau University, all of whom protested at the dumping of France's toxic waste in India (hat tip, Laurie).

Today comes word of an important victory. Le Conseil d'Etat, France's highest court, has blocked the French government from sending a de-commissioned warship, Le Clemenceau, to a ship-breaking yard in Alang, India.
The decommissioning of Le Clemenceau, formerly one of the French navy’s most prestigious ships, is turning into a nightmare for a government eager to profit from one of the world’s dirtiest industries: the scraping of toxic ships by workers in Asian countries. French efforts to side-step international protocols and global agreements preventing countries from exporting hazardous waste have been frustrated by the campaigning efforts of Ban Asbestos France and Greenpeace working closely with members of an NGO Platform for Clean Ship-breaking. For months, legal proceedings kept the ship berthed in the French port of Toulon. On December 31, 2005, an Administrative Court cleared the way for the redundant aircraft carrier to depart for the scrapyards in Alang, India via the Suez Canal. (IBAS)
Workers in Alang are not provided safety equipment. If you know anything about asbestos tearout, you know it is one of the dirtiest, dangerous and physically demanding of all jobs in shipbreaking. The French, like the Canadians (our previous post), lied to other governments about the dangerousness of the ship, underestimating the amount of asbestos aboard by a factor of six. But Greenpeace rectified this oversight in their own inimitable fashion:
On January 12, 2006, Greenpeace activists boarded the ship 50 nautical miles off the coast of Egypt. Once on-board they scaled the mast and unfurled a banner which said: “Asbestos Carrier: Stay out of India.” Other activists buzzed the deck with a motorized paraglider and a banner saying: “Not Here. Not Anywhere.” As part of an international day of action, protests were also held in Bangladesh, Switzerland and France.


On January 7, 2006, India’s Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Waste Management declared that the French warship should not enter “India’s sovereign territory.” Dr. G. Thyagarajan, Chairman of this Committee, ruled that any transnational movement of hazardous waste violated the Basel Convention: “If India accepts the ship, then India will be seen as abetting a violation of the Basel Convention… Why should we sacrifice our precious soil to bury some other country’s (hazardous) junk?” On January 12th, the Egyptian Government made its concerns known; Mahmoud Ismail, the National Coordinator of Egypt’s Environmental Affairs Agency, warned that the ship would be barred from the Suez Canal in the absence of written evidence from France and India that proved the Clemenceau’s transit was not a breach of the Basel Convention.
The French High Court agreed. Thought a little (more) good news would be welcome.

[Guest blogger: Revere (Effect Measure)]