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Letter from Indian trade union to Intl' counterparts
H. Mahadevan of the World Federation of Trade Unions, 5 February 2006

Dear Comrades,

We write to you in the urgent and the deeply upsetting matter of the planned arrival of the decommissioned French aircraft carrier ‘Le Clemenceau’ to the ship-breaking yard at Alang in Gujarat, India shortly.

This French warship has been the focus of an international controversy of years, with regard to where it would be finally decontaminated. Countries like Turkey and Greece have refused to grant permission for it to be dismantled on their shores.

So far the French authorities have played an unpardonable role by failing to take responsibility for the toxic materials on board the ship, acting in violation of the Basel Convention, and most shockingly, failing to disclose the amount of toxic waste on the ship that would threaten the lives of hundreds of labourers working under abysmal condtions in the ship-breaking yards of Alang.

It is unfortunate that the Indian Government has remained silent and not stated any objection to the import of the Clemenceau, and the French have taken refuge in this silence. Despite the Supreme Court of India Monitoring Committee (SCMC), stating very clearly in its meeting on January 6th, 2005, that “if India accepts the Clemenceau we would be acting in violation of the Basel Convention”, yet the Ministry of Environment and Forests has been ludicrously silent on the matter.

Reports by Greenpeace as well as other environmental and human rights organizations have highlighted the extremely poor working and environmental conditions that are still prevailing at ship breaking yards at Alang in India. We are aware that ship-breaking provides employment to thousands of workers in India and allows the recycling of many materials used in the ship’s construction: however, it is a dirty and dangerous business. It is the poor migrant labour, primarily from the Indian states of Orissa and Bihar, who work under appalling conditions in these yards whose lives are at stake here.

It is clear that past warship is a threat to the workers’ health and the environment. There is evidence (provided by the French company Technopure who was involved in the decontamination of the ship) that there is not less than 500 tons of asbestos on board not to mention other toxic chemicals that can endanger the lives of the workers in Alang’s ship breaking yards.

After the Supreme Court’s temporary stay order the Indian Ministry of Environment has not made its stand clear. The past record of the Ministry does not inspire confidence. In an earlier similar matter the Ministry had argued and got permission from the SCMS to allow an illegal ship from Denmark “Riky” to be dismantled in the Alang shipyard. The Danish Environment Minister Ms. Connie Hedegaard had requested India’s co-operation under the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes (to which both India and Denmark are party) to return the ship to Denmark for decontamination prior to dismantling. Instead of extending co-operation, the Environment Ministry insisted on ‘Riky’s’ dismantling at Alang, Gujarat (India).

Ship-owners and ship operators try to bypass existing EC and international law

It is obvious that the very great majority of European ships, which finish their useful lifetime and are moved to a shipyard in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Turkey, do not comply with the prior informed consent requirement, which has been set up by the Basel Convention and by Regulation 259/93. the most frequent case of bypassing this legislation is that the ship moves – with or without cargo – from a European port to a port in Asia or elsewhere, where it is then sold or otherwise steered towards the shipbreaking yard. Then, the owner or other responsible person argues that the European legislation does not apply, because the ship was still a ship (product), when it left European ports and waters, and only was destined to be broken up at a later stage. This saga of the Clem proves, by the close examination of all the facts and figures, that this is, deliberately fraudulent. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence, that the intention to move the ship to a shipyard in order to have it broken up existed when the ship was and is still in EC ports or waters.

The trade unions in India, affiliates of WFTU such as AITUC, UTUC, UTUC (LS) and friendly organisations like CITU and the ICFTU affiliate like HMS and other independent organisations have jointly taken up the matter with the Government of India and written to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention to stop the ‘hazardous waste’ in the name of the ship coming to the ship breaking yards in Alang (India). We have also decided to conduct protest demonstration in Gujarat state (where the ship breaking yard - Alang is situated), as well as in Delhi before the French Embassy. One of the option is to protest on the day, 20th February, when the French President is likely visit India.

The general demand of the trade unions and other organizations supporting ban on hazardous ship breaking, ban on asbestos etc. are as follows:

  1. The specific respective responsibilities of all the actors involved in the process from the designer of the ship to the breaker be established;
  2. Ship-owners and exporting countries are responsible and held liable for the proper handling of hazardous and explosive materials on board of End of Life Ships;
  3. Ships are progressively decontaminated of hazardous substances and replaced with non-hazardous material at every opportunity provided such as during dry-docking for repairs;
  4. New ships are constructed with a view to minimizing hazards at the time of breaking;
  5. International standards on labour, safety, health and the environment be respected at ship breaking yards wherever they may be;
  6. A fund fed by the ship-owners and governments be created to support the improvement of working conditions at ship breaking yards and to compensate the victims of accidents on the yards and their family;
  7. Such a new legally binding regime on ship breaking should be “at least as equivalent” to that found in the Basel Convention. It should develop provisions for full transparency regarding the “intent to dispose” of the ship, for clean shipbuilding and for mandatory substitution of hazardous substances, for pre-cleaning of ships before they are sent to the yards, for absolute transparency regarding the identity of ship-owners at all times and for full transparency at any given time on all hazardous substances onboard ships.”

The trade unions’ collective demand in the instant case is:

The decommissioned & contaminated ship “Clemenceau” should be withdrawn back, and de-contamination to be carried out and with a clear certificate as per the third-party audit only it can come back to Indian ship breaking-yard.”

Under the circumstances, we request the intervention of the International trade union movement to stop the non-decontaminated French ship, ‘Le Clemenceau’, coming to India. Please issue statements to that effect, besides sending letters to the “Prime Minister of India, Government of India, South Block, New Delhi – 110001, India (Fax: 91-11-23016857 or 91-11-23014255), & Minister of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India, 423, Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, New Delhi – 110003, India (Fax: 91-11-24362222)” with a copy to us.

With Warm Regards,

Yours fraternally,
Secretary WFTU

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