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UK to dismantle French asbestos-laden aircraft carrier

Latest update : 2008-07-01

The Clemenceau, France's retired aircraft carrier laden with asbestos, will be dismantled in a British shipyard. Decommissioned in 1997, the carrier has since been to India and back in a failed bid to have it dismantled there.

The asbestos-contaminated French aircraft carrier Clemenceau, which was towed half-way across the globe in a failed bid to have it dismantled, will be broken up in Britain, officials said Tuesday.

Once a proud symbol of France's naval might, the ship will be broken up by a company called Able UK whose shipyard is in the northeast of England, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The Clemenceau is currently docked in the northwestern French port of Brest, where it returned a year ago after an embarrassing saga that saw it towed as far as India in a bid to find a company to dismantle it.

Its return to France was hailed as a major victory by environmentalist groups, who had fought tooth and nail to block its transfer to Alang on India's west coast, home to the world's largest shipbreaking yard.

Environmentalists and the opposition had accused the French government of exporting its pollution to the developing world and endangering the lives of scrapyard workers there.

Environmentalists Tuesday welcomed the planned transfer to Britain.

Ingvild Jenssen of the Brussels-based NGO Platform on Shipbuilding, a coalition of 14 non-governmental organisations including Greenpeace, said Able appeared to have the necessary controls in place to protect workers.

"Overall we're happy to see the ship going to the UK rather than India," he told AFP by telephone, adding that "as far as we know now, Able does have all its environmental permits and planning permits."

Britain and France must draw up a "cross-border transfer authorisation," a procedure which will take a few weeks and after which the ship will be able to leave Brest, the defence ministry statement said.

Able said in a statement that the vessel was expected to arrive at its yard in Graythorp "later this summer," and said the company will "lead the way in recycling ships to the highest possible environmental standards."

Following its decommissioning in 1997, the carrier, named after France's World War I prime minister Georges Clemenceau, is now known officially as "Hull Q790."

The efforts to break it up began in 2003, when its hull was sold to a Spanish company.

The buyer had agreed to remove the asbestos from the ship within the European Union. But when it started towing the Clemenceau to a breakers' yard in Turkey, a nation with lower health and safety standards than those of the EU, France cancelled the deal.

In 2005 Paris tried to send the Clemenceau to India for demolition but the Egyptian authorities blocked its passage through the Suez Canal on safety grounds.

After Cairo relented, it was the turn of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to demand an explanation for the ship's dispatch to India.

In February 2006, the Indian High Court banned the Clemenceau from entering the country's territorial waters and President Jacques Chirac ordered the infamous vessel back home.

The Clemenceau, 266 metres (878 feet) long and 51 metres (170 feet) wide, saw action in the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s and the 1991 Gulf

Date created : 2008-07-01