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UK High Court action launched to prevent toxic French ship coming

Written By mediavigil on Tuesday, September 09, 2008 | 11:31 AM

Posted: 2008/09/04

A local environmentalist group Wednesday launched a legal challenge to prevent a toxic French aircraft carrier from being imported into the UK to be dismantled.

Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), on behalf of the Friends of Hartlepool, said the ship was contaminated with an estimated 760 tonnes of asbestos and 330 tonnes of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs).

It is 'one of the largest and the most infamous toxic ships in Europe and has long been the source of embarrassment for the French government', PIL said.

The legal challenge at the High Court in London comes after the government's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) HSE granted toxic ship-breaking company, Able UK, based in Hartlepool, northeast England, an exemption to import the toxic ship in June.

Three years ago, France caused international outrage when it attempted to illegally export the aircraft carrier, named The Clemenceau, to be broken up in India.

It was not until after a widespread global campaign that the plan was abandoned. The Clemenceau was even refused permission to be towed through the Suez Canal back to France.

"We feel that it is a deep injustice to force a small town -- which has already disproportionately suffered the ill-effects of polluting industries and has one of the highest cancer rates in the UK -- to accept France's toxic waste," Friends of Hartlepool said.

Iris Ryder from the campaign group said the legal challenge is the 'beginning of a new stage in the fight by Hartlepool residents to prevent our community from becoming the international toxic waste dumping ground of choice of both governments and polluting industries'.

"Toxic waste should be disposed of close to where it is produced, not transported around the world to be buried in our community," Ryder said.

Able UK itself was prosecuted by the UK's Environment Agency last year for unlawfully dumping asbestos after being found to have imported toxic American warships into Hartlepool in 2003 without the required planning permission.

Phil Shiner of PIL, who is UK Solicitor of the Year, said the legal challenge raises 'significant public-interest environmental issues and is a case where the HSE have clearly failed to follow their own policy on granting exemptions'.

"When, as in this case, the facilities exist within France to dispose of the toxic waste aboard the Clemenceau, the HSE has a duty to consider these alternatives before allowing the ship and it's carcinogenic cargo to be imported," Shiner said.

In recent years, Pil has become renowned for raising human rights cases against the British government, especially over its conduct of the Iraq war. --IRNA

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