January 15, 2006

Egypt clears way for passage of French ex-warship

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt said on Sunday a decommissioned
French warship posed no environmental threat to Egypt, clearing
the way for it to enter the Suez Canal after a delay prompted
by possible hazardous materials aboard.

The aircraft carrier Clemenceau left France in December for
a ship-breaking yard in Gujarat, India, amid protests from
environmental group Greenpeace, which says the ship contains
tonnes of toxic waste that could harm the scrap workers.

The Environment Ministry said the ship "does not represent
an environmental danger to Egypt if it is allowed to pass
through the Suez Canal," a statement carried by the official
Middle East News Agency (MENA) said.

An official from the Suez Canal Authority, which gives
approval for ships to pass, said the ship would be allowed to
proceed after a routine technical check.

Greenpeace says the 27,000-tonne ship contains hundreds of
tonnes of hazardous materials, including 500 tonnes of
asbestos, which could pose a severe risk to scrap workers.

The Egyptian authorities had said it was preventing the
ship from passing through Suez Canal until it received the
necessary official papers about materials on board. An Egyptian
official said earlier on Saturday that those documents had been

Under international and Egyptian law, Egypt can stop ships
passing through the canal if they are carrying toxic waste that
has not been properly declared.

The Egyptian statement said the Indian authorities had
agreed to receive the ship for scrapping.

However, a panel appointed by India's Supreme Court had
previously recommended the vessel not be allowed to enter India
because of toxic waste.

French authorities have said the most dangerous work of
removing 115 tonnes of brittle asbestos has been done in France
and the remaining amount has to be kept in place to keep the
ship seaworthy on its last journey to India.