EPA acts on 'toxic' ship

Agency cites Baltimore firms for violating US environmental law, says it was not informed of owners' intent.

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A bit more has been revealed about the old ocean liner once called the SS Independence – now dubbed the Oceanic – and the toxic PCB wastes believed to be on board as it is towed to its final destination, most likely a scrap yard overseas. (See: "Aged ships a toxic export," March 19.)

It's now known who the owners are, and that the Environmental Protection Agency is persuaded that they intend to scrap it, according to a federal complaint and a public statement issued by the EPA March 18. EPA cited two Baltimore companies for violating US environmental laws by exporting PCB-containing materials on board the Oceanic.

The EPA said it would levy a civil fine of $32,500 a day against Global Shipping LLC and Global Marketing Sys­tems Inc., both headquartered at the same address. The fines are for violating the Toxic Substances Control Act.

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"Federal law prohibits companies from exporting PCBs, including those in ships that are sent overseas to be scrapped," said Rich Vaille, associate director for waste program enforcement in EPA's Pacific Southwest region, in a statement. "[T]hey are circumventing US requirements for proper disposal. PCB waste must be properly disposed to protect public health and the environment."

The EPA claims it was not properly informed of the companies' intent to export the ship for disposal. Paperwork showing that the ship's previous owner had sold the vessel to Global "was not submitted to the US Maritime Administration until the ship had already sailed."

"This [complaint] came as a complete surprise," says Anil Sharma, president of Global Marketing Systems, who also spoke on behalf of Global Shipping in a phone interview. "EPA did not contact us before this and check on what the ship is doing. We're not sure exactly where this violation [allegation] is coming from.... We did meet with [the US Maritime Administration] last week, and they told us everything was in order."

Global is evaluating interest in the Oceanic from several groups "for all kinds of uses," Mr. Sharma says. Global bought the ship at scrap prices, he acknowledges. "That's why people assume we intend to scrap it – and that may end up being true," he says. "But we try to find if a premium use can be found for the ship for something else." For now, the Oceanic has not been resold, and Global is not negotiating with a ship-recycling company, he says.

The companies have 30 days to respond to the complaint to avoid a penalty assessment without a hearing, the EPA said.

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