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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 October, 2003, 03:37 GMT 04:37 UK
'Ghost fleet' pair sail to UK
Map showing probable route of the fleet
Two vessels from a toxic fleet of former US Navy ships have set sail for the UK after weeks of protests by environmentalists.

Auxiliary oil tankers Canisteo and the Caloosahatchee began the three-week journey from Virginia to Teesside on Tuesday.

Campaigners claim that the ships, part of the "ghost fleet," could break-up during the 4,589 mile (7,384km) journey, causing an environmental catastrophe.

The vessels are between 40 and 50 years old and contaminated with chemicals including PCBs, asbestos and heavy diesel.

Six tugs accompanied the ships to the Atlantic Ocean, where one large ocean-going tug will tow them to the Able UK yard in Hartlepool to be scrapped.

The ghost fleet
USS Canisteo
USS Caloosahatchee
USS Mormacmoon
USS Mormacwave
USS Santa Cruz
USS Santa Isabel
USS Rigel
USS Compass Island
USS Protector

Two more of the obsolete ships are free to leave at any time and are expected to depart later this week.

Another nine are being held in port while a court battle between the US Maritime Administration and American environmental groups goes on in Washington.

A previous court bid to prevent the two chemical-contaminated ships and another 11 from leaving partially failed last week when four of the ships were allowed to leave port.

Another hearing in scheduled for October 20 in Washington on the remaining nine ships.

Friends of the Earth said it would seek a judicial review in the High Court in London this week into the decision by the Environment Agency to extend Able UK's waste management licence, to facilitate all 13 ships.

"Unless the Environment Agency revokes or justifies its decision, we will seek judicial review," said the group's director, Tony Juniper.

Job creation

"We are extremely disappointed with UK authorities, including the Environment Agency, English Nature and the Coastguard, for agreeing to allow these boats to come to Teesside.

"Their ghost fleet decision may come back to haunt them.

"These toxic ships should be disposed of in the US, and not sent on a hazardous cross-Atlantic voyage to be dumped on the north east."

'Ghost' fleet
The ships are due to be scrapped at a yard in Hartlepool

Able UK has said that the vessels, which have been at anchor in James River, Virginia, are safe to make the journey, a claim supported by US authorities and the Environment Agency.

The contract is worth 16 million to the company and will create about 200 jobs.

The fleet has been an environmental concern in Virginia for years.

"I frankly don't care if the ships are scrapped internationally or domestically," US Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis told Associated Press.

"We just want them out of our back yard on the James River."

Four toxic ships free to sail
02 Oct 03  |  Americas
'Ghost fleet' threat to coastline
10 Sep 03  |  England
Call to check 'ghost fleet'
07 Sep 03  |  Tees

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