Times of India – Gujarat maritime board to take call on dismantling of ‘toxic’ ship at Alang: Centre to SC

(Written by Dhananjay Mahapatra)

24 June 2012 - The Union environment and forests ministry has stepped into the controversy over beaching rights and breaking of the ship, Exxon Valdez (rechristened as Oriental Nicety), at India’s biggest ship-breaking yard at Alang by leaving the decision to the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB).

Responding to environment activist Gopal Krishna’s application in the Supreme Court for decontamination of the vessel before permission to beach at Alang, the ministry in its affidavit said: “The local authority concerned, GMB, may take a decision for anchoring and subsequent beaching and breaking of the ship in strict compliance of the apex court’s September 6, 2009, directions.”

The ship is standing outside India’s maritime boundary waiting for permission to beach at Alang for breaking. Exxon Valdez had been on the red radar of environmentalists since March 24, 1989, when it ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The vessel spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of its 53 million gallon cargo of Prudhoe Bay crude oil, making it the largest oil spill in US waters.

ExxonMobil Company took immediate responsibility for the spill, cleaned it up, and voluntarily compensated those who claimed direct damages. ExxonMobil paid $300 million immediately and voluntarily to more than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses affected by the Valdez spill. In addition, it also paid $2.2 billion on the cleanup of Prince William Sound, staying with the cleanup from 1989 till its completion in 1992. ExxonMobil also had paid $1 billion in settlements with the state and federal governments.

Krishna had requested the Supreme Court to direct the Union government to ensure that no end-of-life ship be allowed into the country’s coast without prior decontamination in the country of its origin.

He had also sought an inquiry into the manner in which more than 5,000 dead ships were brought into Indian waters for breaking allegedly without following the norms laid down by the Supreme Court.

The ship’s owner, Best Oasis Ltd; had replied to Krishna’s application through counsel Gaurav Goel, and also told the apex court that the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) and the GMB were permitting the ship to beach without even verifying whether there was any hazardous waste on the vessel.

The owners said the notice issued by the SC on Krishna’s application was being understood by the authorities as an order restraining the ship from entering the Indian territorial waters.

“Exxon Valdez does not have any hazardous material,” the owner declared and promised to abide by the apex court’s 2009 directions in both letter and spirit. “The only allegation made by Gopal Krishna is to the effect that at one point of time the ship was an oil carrying vessel and due to an accident it polluted the sea. The ship was repaired after the accident, and had been in use for all these years as an ore-carrying vessel,” they said.