Ecologist – UK warned toxic ship would be scrapped on Indian beach

18 February 2010 – Campaigners say the Environment Agency failed to heed warnings that the gas tanker Margaret Hill would be sent to ship-breaking yards in India.

The UK Government says it is powerless to stop a toxic tanker, the Margaret Hill, being illegally scrapped in India.

The vessel, which NGOs say contains large quantities of asbestos and other hazardous substances, was barred from leaving Southampton Docks in August 2009 after reports it was destined for illegal dismantling on the beaches of South Asia.

International law

Under European and international law it is illegal to send ships containing hazardous waste for breaking in less industrialised countries like India or Bangladesh.

The 50,000 tonne liquified natural gas tanker was only given permission to sail from Southampton in December after assurances from its owners that it would not be scrapped. The tanker’s owners, New York-based Fortress Investment Group, produced evidence showing that the ship would be sent to Dubai for conversion to a floating gas storage facility.

But the Ecologist has learned that the ship has recently been sold to a cash buyer and will now be scrapped on the beaches of India. The alleged buyer, based in Dubai, has refused to confirm or deny the sale.

Early warnings ignored

Ingvild Jenssen from the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking said the UK Government had failed to heed its warnings that the ship would end up on beaches in South Asia if they allowed it to leave.

‘There is no market for a ship of this kind and we told the UK Government to establish a bond guaranteeing the authenticity of the re-use contract which the owners showed them,’ she said.

‘We showed them examples from other European countries where exactly the same thing has happened. The Aqaba Express ended up on Indian breaking beaches after assurances were made to the Spanish authorities that it wouldn’t,’ she added.

Ship now out of UK jurisdication

An Environment Agency spokesperson said the law did not permit them to take a guaranteeing bond and that since the ship had now left UK shores, it no longer fell under their jurisdiction.

‘We no longer have any direct powers to influence the Margaret Hill’s future. The movement of the ship from Dubai is a matter for the Dubai Authorities we will co-operate with them to provide any of the information we have,’ the spokesperson said.

Shipyards in South Asia are notorious for human rights and environmental violations. The UN special rapporteur Okechukwu Ibeanu spent 10 days visiting Indian shipyards in January and was ‘shocked’ by the conditions.

He is reported to have said that the training given to workers was ‘grossly inadequate’ and that ‘the situation in most shipyards remains critical.’