A Toxic Excuse
Lloyd's List Comment, Lloyd's List
26 August 2009 – Letting someone else do your dirty work seems to be a common approach in many walks of government these days. The CIA’s practice of rendition – exporting illegal interrogation beyond US borders – has put the agency under harsh scrutiny from the Obama administration and the public.
We hope that another practice, not quite as onerous but equally cynical and illegal, falls under scrutiny as well. Lloyd’s List reporters Brian Reyes and Rajesh Joshi revealed yesterday that environmental campaigners suspect two US government ships may have been sold for scrap, going against US regulations on toxic exports.
The Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 prohibits the export of PCB contaminate waste, including entire ships, if those ships are proved to be loaded with the material, with the approval of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Yet the US Maritime Administration last week approved a request to reflag two ro-ros, which were sold recently to the St Kitts & Nevis registry.
While the new owners say that the vessels are in good condition and would be traded, not scrapped, the environmentalists have good reason to suspect they are bound for the likes of a beach in Alang or Chittagong.
The ships, now dubbed the Anders and Bonny, were part of the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command, under long-term charters from former owner Wilmington Trust, a Delaware bank.
According to a spokesman for the Basel Action Network, the environmental group that raised the alarm, the vessels’ ages make it likely that they contain a high concentration of PCBs, although the Military Sealift Command said this wasn’t so at the time of the sale.
The news that they were sold for scrap was reported by brokers earlier this summer, and our reporters connected the dots yesterday. The ship manager now operating the vessels on the new owners’ behalf denies they are being sent to scrap.
Brokers say that reflagging US vessels for scrap under conditions that might be prohibited by US law is not unusual. If so, then it is important that the practice is out in the open, and that the EPA responds swiftly to quash it.
For the US government, already up to its ears explaining convenient legal shortcuts, out of sight – beyond the sensible legal protection of a free society – should never be out of mind.
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