EPA alleges Md. firm illegally exported toxic ship for recycling
by David Dishneau (Associated Press Writer), Seattle Post Intelligencer
25 March 2008 (Hagerstown, Md.) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the Maryland-based owner of an old ocean liner with components containing toxic PCBs illegally sent the ship overseas for recycling.
Cumberland-based Global Shipping LLC and an affiliated trading company, Global Marketing Systems Inc., denied the allegations Tuesday. The companies, cited by the EPA as one entity, could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for failing to properly dispose of the chemicals in violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
"I don't think as far as we're concerned that any laws have been broken," said Anil Sharma, president of Global Marketing Systems and a shareholder in Global Shipping, which owns the vessel. Global Marketing's primary business is ship recycling, Sharma said.
The case highlights the practice of sending aged ships to "ship breaking" yards in South Asia, where critics say unprotected workers are endangered by exposure to PCBs, asbestos, toxic paint and residual fuels.
Sharma produced copies of U.S. Department of Homeland Security documents showing that the 58-year-old ship, the Oceanic, left the Port of San Francisco for Singapore Feb. 7, accompanied by a tug boat. The documents describe the Oceanic as "scrap" but Sharma said in a telephone interview that no decision has been made about whether it will be dismantled or put to some other use.
He said Global plans to meet next week with EPA officials to discuss the matter. Global has until April 17 to answer the complaint to avoid fines without a hearing, according to the EPA.
The agency's Pacific Southwest region, based in San Francisco, announced the action in a statement March 18.
"Federal law prohibits companies from exporting PCBs, including those in ships, that are sent overseas to be scrapped," said Rich Vaille, the region's associate director for waste program enforcement.
Dean Higuchi, a regional EPA spokesman in Hawaii, said Global failed an obligation to inform the agency of its plan to export the ship for disposal. The agency issues permits for such activities but "our preference would be for them or anyone to clear their ships prior to export," he said.
The EPA said Global bought the ship, formerly called the Independence, from Norwegian Cruise Lines but didn't inform the U.S. Maritime Administration of the sale until after the Oceanic had sailed. Sharma denied that Global withheld the information.
The EPA said ships built in the early 1950s were commonly constructed with PCB-containing cables, electrical equipment, watertight seals and painted surfaces. The United States banned production of those chemicals in 1978 because they can cause cancer in laboratory animals and various health problems in humans.
Sharma said he was unaware of any proof that the ship contains PCBs.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that 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, the newspaper reported.
Sharma, an Indian national and former business professor at nearby Frostburg State University, said he established Global Marketing Systems in 1992 to buy old U.S. Navy ships and sell them to customers in India.
The Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based environmental group, said it tipped off the EPA to the ship's departure in conjunction with the Save the Classic Liners Campaign, which seeks to restore aged ocean liners.
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