The Indian Express – SC allows dismantling of US ship Exxon Valdez in Gujarat

30 July 2012 - The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the dismantling of the controversial US ship MV Oriental N, formerly called the Exxon Valdez, at the Alang Ship Recycling Yard in Bhavnagar, Gujarat.

The apex court, however, also ruled that in future no vessel should be dismantled in the country in contravention of the Basel Convention, an international treaty on cross-boundary movement of hazardous wastes that, among others, insists on prior consent by the host country and prior decontamination of vessels in the country of origin, a lawyer for the petitioner added in a telephone interview from Delhi.

A written copy of the judgement had not been made available by the court at the time of writing this news story.

The entry of the former oil tanker, which gained notoriety for running aground and spilling more than one lakh barrels of crude oil on the Alaskan coast in 1989, has been stalled since May after Delhi-based activist Gopal Krishna filed a petition demanding it not be allowed since Basel Convention rules had not been followed.

For their part, government agencies with jurisdiction over the yard at Alang told the SC that an inspection of the ship, which was converted into an ore carrier a few years ago, found no hazardous wastes in loose form onboard. As per the rules framed on the basis of the SC’s earlier orders on shipbreaking, the government can therefore allow the ship’s entry for dismantling, they had said.

The ship is currently anchored about 6 nautical miles off Alang with its 15-member Indian crew.

“In their affidavits, the MoEF, the Gujarat Maritime Board, the Ministry of Shipping and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board all said there is no hazardous waste in lose form on the ship. But none have ever filed an inventory of materials found onboard. The court has said during dismantling if any waste is found in the ship, it should be disposed of through proper process in the landfill and the cost borne by the ship owner,” said Sanjay Parikh, the advocate who represented Gopal Krishna, the petitioner.

“I am happy that the court has also ordered there be no dismantling of ships in the future without the Basel Convention being followed,” he said.

A government official in Alang who did not wish to be named as he had not seen the court’s judgement yet said disposal costs being borne by the owner is standard practice at the yard, and that non-loose waste found onboard ships are disposed of by a company specially hired for the process into a special treatment facility currently being expanded.

The strict implementation of the Basel Convention to ship-breaking in India has alarmed state government officials because the Alang Ship Recycling Yard, considered Asia’s largest, ‘produces’ up to four million tons of recycled steel per year, besides providing wares to a thriving antiques and second-hand furniture market nearby the yard itself and supports up to five lakh jobs directly or indirectly.

Earlier this month, Gujarat’s Chief Secretary A K Joti had publicly pleaded with MoEF Secretary T Chatterjee that a “level playing field” be established because end-of-life ships would go to neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh and China for dismantling because these countries are “violating the convention with impunity”.

Prior decontamination of end-of-life ships, said a senior official, would hit business at Alang because ships built in the last century contain asbestos and other material as insulating material for engines and other machinery, and ‘decontaminating’ these at the point of origin would effectively paralyze vessels, making it either economically nonviable or impossible to ships to Alang.