Toxic Trade News / 21 March 2008
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Independence sails into a new set of problems
by Carl Nolte (Chronicle Staff Writer), The San Francisco Chronicle
  Independence sails into a new set of problems: The ship that was called Independence when it departed for parts unknown has a new name, Oceanic, and new legal problems.

Chronicle photo by Paul Chinn
21 March 2008 – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has filed a complaint against the owners of the famous old ocean liner Independence, which was towed out of San Francisco Bay last month on a voyage apparently to an overseas scrap yard.

The EPA says the ship apparently contains toxic PCBs in its wiring or other materials. Export of PCBs without a permit from the government is illegal.

"Federal law prohibits companies from exporting PCBs, including those in ships that are sent overseas to be scrapped," Rich Vaille, associate director for waste program enforcement for the Pacific Southwest region, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The EPA says the owners of the ship, now called Oceanic, are Global Shipping and Global Marketing Systems Inc., of Cumberland, Md.

Dean Higuchi, the EPA press officer in Honolulu, said the EPA was not notified when the 57-year-old ship was towed out of San Francisco by an oceangoing tug on Feb. 8.

The ship was towed by the tug Pacific Hickory; its destination was unknown. It was widely assumed that the ship was being taken to be scrapped in India or Bangladesh.

The EPA says older vessels like this "were commonly constructed with PCB-containing materials, including cables, electrical equipment ... watertight seal material and painted surfaces."

While it is not illegal to operate a ship containing these materials, it is illegal to export such a vessel on grounds that PCB materials must be properly disposed of to protect public health. PCBs can cause cancer in animals and adversely affect humans.

The maximum fine for such violations is $32,500 per day per violation, the EPA said.

The Independence, as the ship was known for most of its life, had a long career as an ocean liner in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and spent many years sailing out of Honolulu on Hawaiian cruises.

The ship was laid up in 2001 and spent seven years at various docks around San Francisco Bay. At one point, Norwegian Cruise Lines apparently intended to put it back into passenger service, but that idea was dropped.

Documents indicating that the ship had been sold to Global were not submitted to the government until the ship had sailed on its last voyage, the EPA said.

The ship's exact location is not known to the government. Higuchi said it is likely at sea somewhere between Guam and Saipan.

Global Shipping and Global Marketing Systems has 30 days to answer the complaint to avoid a penalty assessment without a hearing. Global officials could not be reached for comment.

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