Sad end for the once famous SS Norway

Found this article in Malayasian “The Star”
“ON A stretch of beach in the state of Gujarat, western India, impoverished Bhojpuri- and Oriya-speaking workers are salvaging whatever valuables they can find from an 11-deck cruise ship.

Anchored in Alang waters since June 2006, the 46,000-tonne Blue Lady (formerly the luxurious trans-Atlantic liner SS Norway) has been embroiled in a protracted legal battle in the Indian Supreme Court. A breakthrough for the ship-breaking industry came on Sept 11 when the apex court gave the green light for it to be dismantled.

The Supreme Court has ruled on grounds of fait accompli: the situation has become “irreversible” since the vessel has beached but it has asked that precautionary measures be taken in dismantling the ship.

The 44-year-old Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) vessel is at the centre of an international outcry against the dumping of toxic wastes on the shores of South Asian sub-standard yards that have no decontamination facilities.

The 315m-long ship was retired from the fleet of NCL in May 2003 after an engine room fire and explosion in Miami. It was later towed to Bremerhaven, Germany, for repairs but was relocated to Port Klang in August 2005. NCL was acquired by Malaysian Genting Group’s Star Cruise Ltd, the world’s third largest cruise company, in 2000.

Highly controversial: The Blue Lady at the Alang shipyard in India.

Bangladesh, the original destination, rejected the ship in February 2006 as its contents are harmful to the environment and human health. The ship was eventually towed out of Port Klang in May 2006 for repairs in Dubai. However, the vessel instead entered the Gujarat port a month later, triggering a series of court actions.

The Indian Supreme Court allowed the vessel to enter Indian waters on humanitarian grounds when the purchaser Haryana Ship Demolition cited “difficulties due to monsoon storm”. But campaigners claimed the owner and purchaser had timed the ship’s departure to coincide with monsoons after an eight-month wait in Malaysia. (The ship has since been sold to Priya Blue Shipping Ltd.)

NGOs Platform on Ship-breaking, a grouping of Greenpeace International, Basel Action Network, Ban Asbestos Network of India and nine other groups, has since appealed the decision which it claimed has violated the same court’s ruling five days earlier. On Sept 6, the court had banned the entry of contaminated vessels and asked the government to produce a comprehensive ship-breaking policy.

Gopal Krishna of Ban Asbestos Network India alleged that the about-turn was due to collusion between government officials and the steel lobby that is desperate to keep the business alive at the notorious beach.

The ship is believed to contain 1,200 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated materials, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), radioactive materials and other hazardous substances that could endanger the lives of nearly 700 workers and some 30,000 villagers.

The dismantling is expected to take one year and will be done by uneducated migrant workers with little safety training and equipment.

Permission to beach the vessel was granted on Aug 1, 2006, by the court following inspection by the Technical Committee. NGOs Platform said the inspection did not comply with international and national laws.

It said the inspection team failed to quantify and identify the location of asbestos and PCBs on the ship, and failed to address the absence of technical capacity of the Alang shipyard to manage the dangerous materials and protect the workers. It pointed out that the government ignored an offer from a salvage company to refloat the vessel.

Workers dismantling a decommissioned ship at the Alang shipyard.

Under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, ships that have outlived their service are considered hazardous waste and unless decontaminated, are forbidden from being exported. The convention was designed to curb the dumping of toxic wastes from developed countries to developing nations, which often have less stringent environmental laws.

The Blue Lady saga mirrors the case of the Danish ship Riky in 2005, which was dismantled amid accusations of violations of both the convention and a court order that demanded decontamination and an inventory of hazardous materials onboard. In early 2006, French aircraft carrier Le Clemenceau was allowed to enter Indian waters laden with toxic substances until the French government, under intense public pressure and legal actions, recalled the ship.

Appeals by NGOs Platform urging the ship owner, Norwegian Cruise Line and its parent company Star Cruises Ltd (SCL) to assume responsibilities for Blue Lady went unanswered.

NGOs Platform also claimed that SCL withheld vital information from the German authorities when it sought permission to leave Bremerhaven. It said as early as December 2004, NCL had devalued SS Norway to a scrap value of US$12mil and was aware of the hefty cost to remove the wastes, rendering the sale for reuse unlikely. Hence, the intent to dispose was formed but not disclosed to the German and Malaysian authorities.

Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities appear unconcerned over the matter since the vessel had departed in May 2006. Department of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment have not responded to calls from campaigners who urged Malaysia to exercise its rights to compel Germany to recall the ship and to abide by its obligation to prevent the illicit trade.

It is learnt that the authorities are seeking legal advice. A spokesman from SCL said “the company is unable to comment at this point in time”.


One Response

  1. If you want to see the Norway, check out this site and say goodbye……..

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