Federal Judge Orders Toxic Ships to Stay Put

Friday, October 03, 2003
The National Defense Reserve Fleet will remain in the James River in southeastern Virginia, after a federal judge blocked the ships from being towed to the U.K. where they are slated to be dismantled. The 1940s-built Canisteo and Caloosahatchoo, were the first of the 13 ships scheduled to leave today for their scrapping destination at Teesside, England where AbleUK would dismantle the ships and dispose of the hazardous materials. The ships, dubbed the Ghost Fleet, contain up to 100 tons of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as well as significant quantities of asbestos and fuel oil. Environmental groups urged Judge Rosemary M. Collyer to block the scheduled towing of the vessels, stating that the agency responsible for the ships failed to follow environmental regulations. At a hearing on October 2, despite MARAD's ongoing efforts to address the problems with the James River Fleet, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled that "there is no statute to excuse MARAD's failure to conform fully to environmental laws while exporting the remaining ships." Judge Collyer ordered that a preliminary injunction will be heard later this month on whether the transport of the vessels violate federal law. The U.K. Environment Agency granted clearance last week, giving AbleUK the OK to dismantle the ships at their Teesside facilities. The Agency also granted a modification after it had undertaken a thorough assessment reviewing all the potential environmental risks to the Tees Estuary and the surrounding sensitive habitat sites. This assessment involved looking at the potential impact, of not only the waste management license modification, but also all other relevant plans and projects, such as installing new dock gates so that the dry dock can be used for dismantling vessels/ships.

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