'Toxic' ship owner raises crack scare - Gov't to inspect vessel
by Special Correspondent, The Telegraph
19 October 2009 (Ahmedabad) – The owner of an alleged radioactive ship anchored off the Gujarat coast has claimed that the vessel has developed cracks and is in danger of sinking if it is not allowed to beach at Alang.
A central team today reached Alang, 210km southwest of Ahmedabad, to inspect the ship, Platinum II, following allegations levelled by environmentalists that the US-origin vessel has toxic material. But the team returned midway after setting out for inspection as the sea turned rough. The officials will go early tomorrow morning.
Environmentalists, as well as Gujarat government officials, have dismissed the claim of Komal Sharma, who has purchased the ship, that it is in danger.
“It is his statement. We don’t know the truth, we don’t have information,” said S.K. Nanda, principal secretary, forest and environment.
G. Patel, the regional officer of Gujarat Pollution Control Board in Bhavnagar district agreed with Nanda, saying he was not “aware” if the ship had developed cracks.
But Sharma, who owns a company called Leela Ship Recycling Pvt Ltd, blamed the authorities for coming under the influence of “an anti-Alang lobby” which is “conspiring against him”.
Sharma said the SOS he sent to the authorities to allow the vessel to reach Alang ship-breaking yard, were ignored.
Gujarat officials insist that the “contaminated” material can be taken apart at Alang. “We stick to our earlier position. The ship should be given permission to beach at Alang,” said a senior official.
The Bhavnagar-based Sharma, who bought the ship for some Rs 24 crore ($48.5 lakh), says his people on board have informed him that water had entered the vessel.
“Now it is the responsibility of the Gujarat Maritime Board to save the ship from sinking. It should pump out the water and tow it to Alang beach,” said Sharma, claiming that there were adequate facilities at Alang to decontaminate the ship before allowing it to be dismantled.
Green crusaders say the 682-foot ocean liner, formerly the SS Oceanic and SS Independence, is loaded with an estimated 210 tonnes of material contaminated with toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), a claim which did not tally with the initial report of the Gujarat pollution board. The board report agrees with the environmentalists’ assertion that the vessel did have an estimated 250 tonnes of asbestos as part of its construction which is lethal to people and the environment.
Environmental activist Kaushal Singh Yadav said the only option is that the US, from where the ship originated, should recall the vessel. “If it is really in danger of sinking or allowed to be dismantled at Alang, in both cases, it would be an environmental disaster,” he said.
The vessel was built in 1951 and has been penalised by the US Environmental Protection Agency for contamination.
An official of the maritime board said the central team, which refused to meet Sharma, is likely to complete their inspection by tomorrow.
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