Toxic Trade News / 19 March 2008
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EPA sues to stop Sanctuary owner from towing boat to Greece
by Ben Mook (Daily Record Assistant Business Editor), The Daily Record
  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit Wednesday to prevent the owners of the M/V Sanctuary from towing the ship out of the Baltimore harbor.

© The Daily Record
19 March 2008 – In the latest legal battle facing a World War II-era hospital ship that has sat dormant in the Baltimore harbor for 18 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is asking a federal judge to prevent its owners from towing it to Greece.

The M/V Sanctuary’s owner, Potomac Navigation Inc., has said it plans to tow the ship from the North Locust Point Marine Terminal Pier 5 to Greece where it would be refitted, possibly as a hotel. The EPA contends that towing the ship is equivalent to transporting a toxic substance.

In its lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the EPA included page after page of test results showing the presence onboard of greater than normal levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are classified as possible carcinogens. The agency also found a piece of electrical equipment labeled as containing 1,800 pounds of liquid coolant with a high concentration of PCBs.

“For these reasons, the United States’ Complaint requests that the Court issue an order to prevent Potomac from violating the TSCA [Toxic Substances Control Act] prohibitions and to require Potomac to remove and properly dispose of any liquid PCBs contained in the electrical equipment,” Andrew Ames, Department of Justice spokesman said in a prepared statement.

The Sanctuary was launched in 1944 and provided medical care for soldiers from the end of World War II through the Vietnam War. The ship was decommissioned in 1971 and ultimately was purchased in 1989 by a charity known as Life International.

The Maryland Port Administration fought to bar the ship from being berthed at the marine terminal, since its purpose was to serve as a floating drug rehabilitation center. The charity eventually won the right to dock the ship at the terminal but stopped paying rent in 2004.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled that the charity was in default and ordered the ship seized and sold at auction. Potomac Navigation bought the ship for $50,000 at an auction last October.

In conjunction with the seizure, the EPA obtained a temporary restraining order against the new owner last November. The injunction would have expired on April 15 if the EPA had not filed the present lawsuit.

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