- defence - environment - France - UK
AFP - The asbestos-tainted French warship the Clemenceau began its final journey Tuesday to a British "ghost fleet" shipyard, where it is to be broken up despite initial protests from green campaigners.
The rusted grey carcass of the aircraft carrier, former pride of the French navy now known simply as "Hull Q790," was manoeuvred by eight small tugs out of a military harbour in the northwestern French port of Brest.
Once at sea it was hooked up to an English tug, the Anglian Earl, which will tow it to a dry-dock recycling facility at the mouth of the River Tees in northeastern England, operated by the British shipbreaker Able UK.
Dockers and retired navy officers joined a small crowd in a park overlooking the port of Brest to watch the ship be towed away.
"It was a legendary ship. But its time has passed. Farewell to it," said Iffig, a 73-year-old retired docker. "It will have a second life -- and maybe one day we'll see a car made with metal from the 'Clem'."
Able UK said in a statement that the vessel was expected to dock on the Tees at the end of the week, joining three other British vessels and four from the United States which are also being recycled here.
The dismantling will be the biggest ship recycling project ever undertaken in Europe.
Named after France's World War I prime minister Georges Clemenceau, the aircraft carrier was decommissioned in 1997. It saw action in the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s and the 1991 Gulf war.
The Clemenceau has, however, spent the past five years at the centre of an embarrassing saga, as it was towed around the globe in the search for a place to dispose of its toxic hull.
In 2006, it was taken as far as India to be broken up at the giant Alang shipbreaking yard, but was finally turned away over concerns it would endanger the lives of Indian scrapyard workers.
A French court Monday rejected an attempt by a Breton environmental group to block the vessel's transfer to England, clearing the way for it to leave.
Some English environmentalists are also alarmed over the arrival of the ship, which contains some 700 tonnes of material contaminated with asbestos, a carcinogenic substance, but they failed to block its transfer in the courts.
But other campaign 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.
French environmental group Robin des Bois also issued a statement welcoming the outcome of the Clemenceau saga, and saying Able UK had taken "mechanical steps to protect both workers and the environment."
Supporters of the move also argue the ship's demolition will provide much-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."
Specialised in rehabilitating disused sites and facilities, including for international oil companies, the company says it is "built on total reliability and respect for the environment."
Able UK operates a 25-acre (10-hectare) dry dock which can accommodate ships up to 400 yards (366 metres) long.
Speaking before the Clemenceau's departure from Brest, Able UK chief executive Peter Stephenson said: "This is a very important day for both ourselves, our French partners and the ship recycling industry."
"It underlines the growing recognition of the need for high-quality facilities to meet the increasing demand for responsible ship recycling," he added.