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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 August, 2004, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Court to decide on 'ghost ships'
US ghost fleet
More than 100 vessels are awaiting disposal in the James River
A US court is to be asked to agree to a further 36 rusting former naval vessels being scrapped on Teesside.

Four of a fleet of so-called ghost ships are already docked at Hartlepool-based Able UK, awaiting permission for break up work to begin.

Green campaigners claim the vessels contain high levels of toxic PCBs.

But the US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (Marad) is to petition for a further 36 to be towed to the UK.

Able UK originally signed a deal to dismantle 13 ships at a dry dock facility in Hartlepool.

But a catalogue of planning and legal hurdles has delayed the remaining nine vessels, currently moored in the James River in Virginia, leaving for the UK.

Now it has emerged that the US government wants to substitute the outstanding nine vessels with 36, which it claims have lower levels or no PCBs at all.

Ghost ship
Four of the vessels are currently moored in Hartlepool

The case, due to be heard before a district judge in Washington DC on 1 October, is being contested by environmental pressure group Basal Action Network (Ban).

The group has accused the US government of "pulling a trick" to avert strict rules on exporting PCBs from the United States.

In its submission Marad says: "Marad believes that a number of these vessels do not contain PCBs... Marad believes for this reason that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has authority to issue a rule with respect to all of these vessels...

"Accordingly, Marad requests that a rule be issued permitting the export of all 36 vessels to Able UK for recycling and disposal."

Peter Stephenson, managing director of Able UK said: "We are currently losing out on this type of work to Belgium and Denmark.

'Healthy debate'

"We are hoping to submit a renewed planning application for the dry dock to Hartlepool Council at the end of September.

"But even when this is approved, we won't be ready to take any more vessels until next year.

"We are planning a 30m a year business here, which will generate at least 200 new jobs.

"We are as confident as we can be that the ships will get the go-ahead. We cannot see any reason why permission would not be granted."

A spokesman for Friends of the Earth (FoE) said: "It is still premature to say that these vessels will be coming to the UK.

"We will have to wait and see what happens in the court in Washington.

"What is certain is that there will be a healthy debate within the community in Hartlepool as to what image this may have on the town."

'Ghost fleet' costs top 9m
21 Jan 04  |  Tees
Q&A: Ghost ships
07 Jan 04  |  England

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