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Saturday, January 14, 2006 

Walk Like An Egyptian

Thank God for the Egyptians. They have done what the Government has refused to do in a decisive manner : stopped the Clemenceau from carrying its deadly load of asbestos to the Alang ship-breaking yard.
The French, in a breath-taking display of brazenness, had declared that the ship did not fall under the purview of the Basel Convention on transportation of hazardous wastes, being a "warship". "Asked to explain the difference between asbestos contained in a suitcase and asbestos contained in the empty hull of a decommissioned warship, a clearly discomfited French Admiral refused to reply ..." . What even more amazingly cynical is the fact that the company that was contracted to clean up the ship prior transport has gone on record to state that ..."France never intended to undertake more than a superficial clean-up of visible toxic substances on board the Clemenceau and deliberately chose the cheapest option they could get away with..." and that "the Clemenceau contains as much as 500 tonnes of asbestos, a huge increase on the 45 to 50 tonnes that the French Government has admitted to. "
The Indian Government has kept mum even as Greenpeace has raised up a storm in France itself, and highlighted that the Greeks and the Turks have already refused the same ship due to decontamination hassles. The only hope, it seemed, was the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes, which recommended that the vessel be denied entry. Whether this would've actually translated into action on ground by the time the ship's final resting place became a fait accompli is a matter of conjecture.
As I said, thank God for the Egyptians.
But hey. Spare a thought for poor workers of companies like Shree Ram Scrap Vessels Pvt. Ltd, which has taken up the Clemenceau job. They depend on these jobs for a livelihood. Can a movement that wants to save the environment neglect the interests of these workers?
The Clemenceau may be one of the largest ships to be sent for scrap but every year a vast decrepit armada bearing a dangerous cargo of toxic substances, asbestos, PCBs and heavy metals, ends up in ship breaking yards in Bangladesh, India, China and Pakistan, where they are cut up in the crudest of fashions, taking a huge toll on human health and the local environment.
Life, it seems, is a choice between poverty and embracing death.

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