Toxic Trade News / 20 February 2008
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EPA called on to Stop Illegal Departure of Toxic Ocean Liner in Hawaii
Historic SS Independence loaded with PCBs and asbestos to be scrapped
BAN Press Release
  Picture of the ship from post-card during its cruise line service in the early 1950's  
20 February 2008 (Honolulu, Hawaii) – On Friday a 682 foot ocean liner known as the SS Oceanic (aka SS Independence), loaded with an estimated 210 tons of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contaminated material and 250 tons of deadly asbestos as part of its construction, will be towed into Hawaiian waters so that the ocean going tug Pacific Hickory, hauling it can refuel on its way to Asia.[1] The ship has become the latest test case in the international furor against the environmental and human rights abuses caused by shipbreaking practices and the rapid disappearance of our last classic ocean liners.

According to the Basel Action Network (BAN) and Save the Classic Liners Campaign, the export of the 1950 classic ship, recently owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) and mothballed in San Francisco Bay, is illegal. Its quiet departure from San Francisco Bay for the stated destination of Singapore on 8 February should never have been allowed, because the US flagged ship should have been declared as historically significant by the Maritime Administration when it sold the vessel to NCL in 2003 and because the export of the PCB laden ship is illegal under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The groups claim that if the ship is not apprehended and held by US authorities in Hawaii it will evade the law and will end up being scrapped on the infamous shipbreaking beaches of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh where workers are subjected to deadly occupational disease, explosions and crushing accidents and the beaches are befouled with toxic PCBs and oils. EPA's Region 9 headquarters in San Francisco is currently seeing if they can obtain a temporary restraining order to hold the ship pending sampling and analysis for PCBs. According to BAN, there is no excuse for EPA not to do so.

"This ship is a toxic timebomb for the poor laborers of South Asia," said Jim Puckett, coordinator of the Basel Action Network. "If EPA and the Coast Guard do not act to detain this vessel and her tug as it passes one last time through US waters, the liability and shame will rest on our own government for failing to enforce our law."

In November of last year, BAN tipped off the EPA in Baltimore and was able to halt the export of the M/V Sanctuary from the Port of Maryland pending testing and remediation of toxic PCBs.[2] Prior to that, BAN similarly tipped off San Francisco EPA to the imminent export of the USS Crescent City (aka Artship) from Oakland for scrapping in Asia.[3] In the present case, BAN has contracted with a maritime survey and remediation expert to provide an estimate of the amount of PCBs, asbestos and other hazardous substances on board.[1] According to BAN, with this information in hand the government is now obliged to act to prevent the illegal export.

According to the activist groups, the present case is not the first time a ship that belonged to Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), flaunted international waste trade rules. In 2005 NCL told the German government that they were going to have the former SS Norway (aka Blue Lady), cruise liner exported to Malaysia to be refurbished. Germany was unable to halt the export as hazardous waste due to the claim of continued use of the vessel. Had its export been reported as export for scrapping, then the export would have been prohibited under the European Union laws that implement the Basel Convention. However, after the ship arrived in Malaysia, no repair work was done and NCL instead later attempted to send it to Bangladesh for scrapping on the beaches.[4] The Bangladesh government refused to accept it due to the large quantities of asbestos onboard. Subsequently it was run onto the beaches of Alang, India. Today, much to the dismay of environmentalists and preservationists alike, the Blue Lady sits in the sand, and has been stripped of its historical interiors, awaiting Indian Supreme Court determinations as to whether it will be cut and scrapped.

Meanwhile, preservation organizations say the rush to scrap vessels due to the recent high prices of metals is causing the rapid "extinction" of our last remaining classic liners. They are calling on the federal government to exercise the National Historic Preservation Act to save the the SS Independence, one of the last two such remaining vessels[5] before its too late.

"This ship is a priceless historic monument that deserves to be preserved as a museum or hotel for the enjoyment and awe of generations to come," said Erik James of Save the Classic Liners Campaign. "That should be her future, not one of death and destruction on the beaches of India."


For more information contact:

Eric James, Save the Classic Liners Campaign: 1.617.755.8570 (cell),
Corey Abelove, Save the Classic Liners Campaign: 1.770.853.1413,

Jim Puckett, Basel Action Network: 1.206.652.5555 (office), 1.206.354.0391 (cell),

Max Weintraub, EPA technical expert, Region 9: 1.415.947.4163

Allan Zabel, Legal Council, Region 9: 1.415.972.3902 (office),

Lt. Paul Markland, Coast Guard Hawaii, 1.808.541.2105 (office)


[1], conducted by ship remediation expert Mr. Werner F. Hoyt. Mr. Werner Hoyt can be contacted at: 1.530.938.1253 (office), 1.650.291.5204 (cell),




[5] Only the SS Independence and the SS United States remains. The SS United States also owned by NCL is currently berthed in Philadelphia.

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Select images courtesy of Chris Jordan