Toxic Trade News / 2 September 2009
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Denmark challenges EPA claims over Star Maritime ships
by Rajesh Joshi and Brian Reyes, Lloyd's List
2 September 2009 – The US Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday that it had no basis to detain two former US-flag ships at the centre of a row over toxic ship scrapping, citing information from Denmark where the ships were built.

Environmentalists have claimed the 30-year-old ships could contain unacceptable levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, but the agency refutes this.

The US EPA further said that Star Maritime, the new owner, has provided “detailed information regarding expenditures and plans related to the future use of these ships as cargo vessels”, which has satisfied EPA that the ships would not be scrapped in a foreign country.

The case highlights the problems faced by western regulators, who are coming under increasing scrutiny from environmental groups at a time when ship demolition has surged on weak freight markets and overcapacity.

The latest move leaves the spotlight on Star, as the ships begin life under the St Kitts and Nevis flag and the new names Anders and Bonny.

In a statement, EPA spokesperson Terri White said the EPA gave serious consideration to concerns that the ships may contain PCBs and that Star would scrap them in an open, if legitimate, circumvention of US policy.

“These ships are cargo ships built in Denmark in 1979-1980,” the EPA statement said. “In July 2009, EPA contacted the Danish government concerning PCBs in Danish-built ships, and was advised that PCB-containing materials should not have been used when these ships were built.

“Danish law prohibited the open application of PCBs in 1977, which would include the typical uses of PCBs in ships such as cables, gaskets and paints,” the statement added.

However, while Denmark’s Environmental Protection Agency confirmed the 1977 ban on major usage such as paint and sealants, it would not rule out the possibility that PCB’s might be present on board these two ships.

Spokeswoman Lone Schou said the use of materials with PCBs continued until 1986 in closed application, meaning cables, transformers and small electrical equipment.

”There could have been cables with PCBs on these ships,” she said.

That point had already been raised by the Basel Action Network in a letter sent to the US EPA on August 26.

The EPA statement added that the US Military Sealift Command retrofitted the two ships as supply ships in 1982. Since the US banned PCBs in 1978, such substances could not have crept into the ships in 1982 or during their military charters, the EPA argued.

The ship’s technical manager and owner representatives have indicated their intention of using the duo as cargo ships, the statement said.

The EPA added: “Based on available information, including lack of evidence that these ships are likely to contain PCBs, EPA has determined that there is not a sufficient basis to detain them or take other legal action at this time."

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