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Contaminated French Ship Docks In England

February 9, 2009

What was once a proud symbol of the French navy is now the biggest ship-recycling project ever undertaken in Europe.

The asbestos-contaminated French aircraft carrier Clemenceau will be broken up at a “ghost fleet” shipyard in northeastern England.

The ship is now known simply as “Hull Q790.” It was guided Sunday by five tugboats into its docking position at a shipbreaking yard in the port of Hartlepool.

The rotting ship’s name was still visible when it arrived at the yard, owned by Able UK, the company awarded the contract to dismantle it.

“I’m glad to finally see it here,” said Paul Stephenson, Able UK’s chief executive.

The ship was named after France’s World War I prime minister Georges Clemenceau. It saw action in the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s and the 1991 Gulf war, but was decommissioned in 1997.

However, for the past five years, the Clemenceau has been at the center of an embarrassing saga as it was towed around the globe in the search for a place to dispose of its toxic hull.

It was taken as far as India in 2006 to be broken up at the giant Alang shipbreaking yard. However, it was finally turned away due to concerns it would endanger the lives of Indian scrapyard workers.

On Monday, a French court rejected an attempt by an environmental group to block the vessel’s transfer to England, clearing the way for it to leave.

English environmentalists are alarmed over the 700 tons of material contaminated with asbestos, but they failed to block its transfer in the courts.

Yet, other groups including Greenpeace welcomed the decision to have the toxic ship recycled in the West, rather than exported to a country with less stringent safety and pollution rules.

Supporters say the demolition will also provide needed jobs for British workers hit by the economic slowdown.

Able UK said work on the former Clemenceau would begin after Easter and provide “in the region of 200 jobs.”

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