12 November 2003 – There is much opposition to the US navy ships
The first of the ageing US navy ships at the centre of an environmental and legal struggle has arrived off the coast of Hartlepool.
The contaminated ships have been towed across the Atlantic for dismantling and the first reached the Tees on Wednesday morning.
A second ship is expected to arrive on Thursday.
The UK Government has said they can be stored temporarily on Teesside, but should be sent back to the US.
On Wednesday, it was announced the Environment Agency has approved a modification of a waste management licence to allow the ships to dock in Hartlepool.
Any dismantling cutting or breaking up of the US vessels in any way shape or form while stored in the UK will be prevented.
It also emerged all ports are being considered for the storage of the second two vessels which are en route to the UK.
Able UK, the firm planning to wreck the so-called ghost ships, must convince a court it has the correct permissions.
Demonstrators started to gather at North Gare, Seaton Carew, on Wednesday morning.
Neil Marley, a member of the local environmental group, Impact, said he planned to light a bonfire, and threatened to “moon” the ships.
“We have to make our stand and I think there will be plenty of people there,” he said.
Find out what is on board the ghost fleet
The ships are not carrying any cargo, but the problem is in their own ageing fabric.
They were built when asbestos was widely used to line boilers, for example, and toxic chemicals were used in their wires.
Two more rusting vessels are due to arrive in a week
Last Wednesday, the High Court blocked any work on the ships after campaigners brought an action against Able UK.
Environmental groups argued that the firm did not have the requisite licences and permissions to do the work, and warned of an environmental disaster.
The High Court ruling was followed two days later by a decision from Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett to return the ships to the US on the grounds of “international rules and community law”.
However, the ships would be allowed to remain in the UK over winter until it was safe to make the return journey.
The case is due to be thrashed out in the courts next month.
Able UK managing director Peter Stephenson said he was “comfortable” his legal team would win.
He said his facilities to decommission the ships were more than capable of doing the job safely.
Like all ships, they contain some hazardous materials, but they are not inherently dangerous
And he described the confusion over the whole deal as a “fiasco”, with his company first having the backing of the Environment Agency and Hartlepool Council, and then seeing it withdrawn. The MP for Hartlepool, Peter Mandelson, has accused campaigners of scaremongering.
“They have alarmed and whipped up public opinion in Hartlepool and many fears amongst my constituents, and I think that is an irresponsible thing to do,” he said.
Concerns about the toxicity of the ships were unfounded, he added.
“Like all ships, they contain some hazardous materials, but they are not inherently dangerous and they are not carrying any toxic cargo.”
Two other such ships – part of a flotilla of 13 originally intended to be scrapped on Teesside – are also being towed across the Atlantic.
They are expected to arrive in about a week’s time, even though Mrs Beckett said the second two vessels should turn around.
Oils and oily ballast water could cause damage to the marine environment.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen but is denser than water and non-soluble.
PCBs have been called “probable carcinogens” and have been linked with neurological and developmental problems in humans.
Mercury, lead, chromium and cadmium are highly toxic metals which accumulate in the body.