Toxic Ship Heads For India

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 03

January 15,



Ship Heads For India


FACE OF CAPITALISM: French naval ship Clemenceau



decommissioned French aircraft carrier Clemenceau (pronounced kle-mon-so), once
the pride of the French Navy and having seen action in first Gulf War in 1991,
left France on the last day of 2005 on her last journey, to Alang in Gujarat,
Asia’s largest ship-breaking yard, to be dismantled for scrap. The main value
lies in the 26,000 tonnes of steel the ship will yield, worth about 8 million
Euros (Rs 30 crore). The ship herself was sold (to SDIC or Ship Decommissioning
Industry Corporation registered in Panama) for a paltry 100,000 Euros (Rs 3.6


very tidy profit for SDIC, and for the Indian companies contracted to handle the
shipbreaking, Shree Ram Scrap Vessels Pvt Ltd and the Luthra Group, given the
relatively low costs of transportation and labour involved in Alang. But the
cost to the health and even lives of these helpless unorganised workers will be
enormous. Workers at Alang will be exposed to huge quantities of deadly asbestos
and a host of other highly toxic substances contained in the innards of the
ship, as they break it up and strip it by hand using primitive tools and with no
protective gear, special equipment or specialised training. And all the toxic
materials will then have to be disposed of somewhere in a landfill (read dumped
nearby), exposing numerous others to their ill effects as they get dispersed in
the air or seep into ground water.


is the ugly face of capitalist globalisation. Some people make millions while
others, mostly the poor in developing countries, have to pay a heavy price.
India is becoming a dumping ground for the toxic garbage of the West which finds
it too harmful to handle, too polluting to retain, and too expensive to clean
up. So the nasty job is simply outsourced to developing countries, no complaints
against loss of jobs on this count
And corporate collaborators in India, abetted by a complicit establishment, are
ready to offer scavenging services for a few dollars.


at the time of writing, thanks to the hue and cry raised by various trade unions
such as CITU in India and activist groups like Greenpeace and Ban Asbestos
Network in France, a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous
Wastes has recommended that the Clemenceau not be allowed to enter Indian waters
since this would constitute a violation of the Basel Convention on Transboundary
Movement of Hazardous Wastes.


will not be the last word. The committee has given another 15 days for the
French authorities and SDIC to be heard, the union ministry of environment &
forests is openly favouring the deal, as is the Gujarat government, and enormous
pressure is being brought to bear. Above all, the Supreme Court itself has not
yet pronounced on the issue.




illegality is being committed by France. The ship is owned by the French
government (till the demolition is complete) which, being the actual signatory
to the Basel Convention, should have taken the lead in enforcing it but is
itself not only flouting its international obligations but also engaging in
various subterfuges to circumvent them.


through the ‘90s, owners of decommissioned vessels managed to evade the Basel
Convention and send these end-of-life ships to Alang and other ship-breaking
yards in Bangladesh or China by claiming that these vessels did not constitute
“waste” and were actually ships for recycling! However, the COP7
meeting of the Basel Convention ruled that ships-for-scrap are indeed
“waste” and this decision was further underlined by the EU in October
2004. Under current EU rules, it is illegal to send end-of-life ships for
scrapping unless they are decontaminated first.


is because of this rule, and the huge toxic burden of the Clemenceau, that the
ship was turned away by Turkey in October 2003 and by Greece in November that
year. The ship was stranded for months in the Mediterranean and finally had to
be taken back to France for the partial decontamination that was eventually


sold the ship to SDIC which was to remove all hazardous materials including all
visible and accessible asbestos without, of course, affecting the ship’s
“structural integrity”, that is, its ability to float to its


French government stated at the outset that 90 per cent of an estimated 220
tonnes of asbestos would be removed in Toulon, France, by a specialist company,
Technopure Ltd, leaving only about 22 tonnes to be removed in India. This figure
later somehow changed to “about 45 tonnes” being left out of an
initial 160 tonnes. But Technopure, which cancelled its contract citing the
“illegal and immoral” position of the French government and whose
officials voluntarily and at their own expense testified before the SCMC, has
stated that huge quantities of removable asbestos remain on the ship. Technopure
itself had submitted two quotations, one for 3 million Euros and another for 6
million Euros for major decontamination, and was awarded the lower quote based
on which it removed 70 tonnes. Technopure feels that over 300 tonnes of
asbestos remain in the form of cables, flooring, funnel, boilers and engines,
removal of which will not impair the ships structure, and estimates that the
Clemenceau contains as much as 500 tonnes of deadly asbestos!


the French authorities nor SDIC has so far given a detailed inventory of
asbestos remaining on the ship.


the other hand, the French authorities have gone to great lengths to justify and
legitimise their actions. In the legal case filed by activist groups in France,
the French government took the position that the Clemenceau, being a military
vessel, was outside the purview of the Basel Convention and even the civil
justice system! Astonishingly, the French Court upheld this position and allowed
the ship to leave for India.


claim by Ronon Ballot, Naval Attache in the French Embassy in India, that the
export of the Clemenceau to India for scrap is “in strict compliance with
European regulations” is clearly unsustainable.




the Supreme Court and its Monitoring Committee have more or less consistently
sought the proper implementation of the provisions of the Basel Convention, the
executive and even regulatory authorities have acted most shamefully in defence
of unscrupulous and profiteering recycling contractors and against the interests
of the workers and the environment.


Supreme Court ruled in October 2003 that before ships-for-scrap arrive in Indian
ports, they should have proper certification from the State Maritime Board or
other concerned authority “that it does not contain any hazardous wastes
and that the ship should be properly decontaminated by the owner prior to the
breaking [which itself should be conducted under supervision of the specialist
decontamination company, in this case the SDIC]. This should be ensured by the
State Pollution Control Boards.” In February 2005, the SCMC stipulated that
the Clemenceau could be allowed into India subject to several conditions such as
submission of a report from the contracting company (Sree Ram) providing details
of actual quantities of asbestos and other hazardous materials removed from the
ship, independent third-party audit verifying the report and certificate from
the French authorities that the ship has been decontaminated and does not
violate the provisions of the Basel Convention. Further, it stipulated that the
Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) shall obtain all relevant documents
from the French Embassy and “an official statement that hazardous materials
including asbestos have been removed up to 98 per cent” as originally
promised. None of these conditions have thus far been met.


the Gujarat Maritime Board had appointed a company, the Gujarat Enviro
Protection and Infrastructure Ltd (GEPIL) to visit France and submit a report on
the hazardous material on the ship. GEPIL is supposed to have made the visit
quite some time back but its report is still awaited! Not surprising since GEPIL
is a sister-company of Sree Ram and part of the Luthra Group!


has also been stated that “there is no loose asbestos” on the ship, as
if only suitcases of asbestos are to be considered hazardous wastes! For its
part, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board has blandly stated that it is quite
capable of handling the toxic wastes left over from the ship-breaking but has
provided no details of the proposed landfill sites or methods of disposal of
other materials.


most shameful of all, the secretary of the MoEF, Dr Pradipto Ghosh, went on
record in interviews to newspapers and TV channels that there was nothing
illegal about the Clemenceau, that it was “completely legal for ships to
come to India for dismantling both as per the Indian as well as international
laws” (no mention of hazardous materials here) and that “the
ship-breaking yard at Alang is as per strict guidelines set up by the Supreme
Court, which is regularly monitored by the SCMC and other independent
agencies” which is far from the truth.


through all this, no mention at all of the workers at Alang, of measures taken
for their protection from exposure to asbestos and other toxic materials, of any
insurance or compensation. Ironically, even some environmentalists prominent in
highlighting the entire issue have demanded that France should take back all the
asbestos extracted from Clemenceau: this may save some environmental
contamination in India but the damage to the workers would have been done in any




aspect of the entire issue has indeed received no attention in the media
reports, that is, the dangers of asbestos and its status in India.


has been classed as a highly hazardous material by the World Health Organisation
(WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), especially for workers
involved in mining, manufacture or repair and maintenance work on asbestos.


is a generic term covering several types of naturally occurring mineral fibres.
These fibres can be almost microscopic in size, about 700 times smaller than
human hair, and virtually indestructible (the Greek meaning of the word
asbestos). Asbestos fibres and dust are known to cause lung cancer and
mesothelioma, a particularly virulent and fatal cancer. Asbestos has been
responsible for over 200,000 deaths in the USA, and the EU estimates that about
500,000 people will die in Europe over the next thirty years due to mesothelioma
and lung cancer caused by asbestos
. Asbestos has therefore been banned
by over 35 countries which now use alternative materials. In India, many
organisations including the National Institute of Occupational Health, backed by
extensive studies in leading medical institutions, have called for a complete
ban on asbestos which unfortunately has yet to become reality.


utilises about 125,000 tonnes of asbestos annually, mostly imported from Canada
and Russia, in over 30 factories employing about 22,000 workers. Around 90 per
cent of asbestos use in India is in the construction industry, especially in the
familiar corrugated asbestos-cement roofing sheets used even in hundreds of
thousands of school buildings across the country.


it is true that even the WHO has said that the danger from such roofing
materials or asbestos insulation to the general population is quite low, WHO
also acknowledges that the dangers become hugely magnified when such roofing
material breaks or is being repaired as often happens, when the tiny fibres will
get released into the air and remain suspended for weeks exposing everybody
around. In the work environment in India, minimum standard for asbestos exposure
is around 2 f/cc (fibres per cubic centimetre) compared to 0.1-0.5 f/cc in the
USA and Europe.


has hitherto taken quite a relaxed attitude to this highly poisonous material
especially for workers. The Clemenceau may eventually be kept out of India if
sustained pressure is brought from all quarters on the authorities in the centre
and Gujarat. But it will indeed be ironic if illegal import of end-of-life ships
containing asbestos is stopped even while importation of asbestos and its use in
India continues unabated.