Aged ships a toxic export
A looming spike in retired vessels could send tons of PCBs and asbestos to South Asia's 'ship breakers' before new international regulations take hold.
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"I would completely disagree with that," she says. "At the end of every form we have, we say: 'You must comply with rules of the US, including its environmental laws.' We are a promotional agency, not a regulatory agency. We have no authority over any of these environmental laws."Skip to next paragraph
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In the US, companies have been scrapping old single-hull oil tankers as required by international agreement, 28 of them since 2000, says MARAD's website. At least some of those were reflagged and sold to a foreign owner for scrapping overseas, MARAD records show and Ms. Russell confirms.
For instance, in 2006, MARAD approved a Florida company's application to sell the tanker Chelsea to Grand International Shipping Co., a Liberian corporation, according to the agency's public notice. The agency expected "transfer of said vessel to Mongolia registry and flag for scrapping in India."
It's not known if PCBs were on board the Chelsea or any of the other 90 ships – or precisely where they were ultimately scrapped. Yet few ship owners seek bids from the lower-paying US shipyards where costs associated with tight regulation are higher than in the scrapping centers of India, Bangladesh, or Pakistan, maritime experts say.
"I don't know where US flag [commercial] ships are going.... I just know we aren't seeing them here in the US," says Werner Hoyt, program manager for Allied Defense Recycling of Petaluma, Calif., a start-up ship-recycling company.
At least some ship owners are concerned, according to Kathy Metcalf, maritime affairs director for Chamber of Shipping of America, a Washington-based trade organization whose membership includes several companies with fleets of oil tankers.
"We've had members consider sending their ships [to developing nations] and then they discover conditions there are just as bad as they always were," Ms. Metcalf says. "The option is to go somewhere else, and our members do. Unfortunately, there are always ships that will go and make headlines."
The Oceanic's end?
Until recently, the owner of the SS Oceanic was California Manufacturing Corporation, Coast Guard records show. That company appears to be affiliated with Miami-based NCL Corporation, Ltd., which operates Norwegian Cruise Line. The Oceanic was reportedly sold last summer, but its current owner has not been publicly revealed. Requests for an interview with NCL officials to clarify the vessel's ownership went answered.
Originally christened the SS Independence at the Quincy, Mass., shipyard in 1950, the SS Oceanic could easily follow another former NCL ship – the SS Norway, also known as the Blue Lady, Puckett says. That liner was driven onto a beach in Alang for scrapping in 2006.
"We no longer own the Oceanic," a woman answering NCL's press line in Miami said.