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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2006, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
French 'toxic' ship returns home
A tug tows the Clemenceau back towards the port of Brest
The ship is towed home at the end of a long and controversial voyage
The French warship Clemenceau, once the pride of France's navy, is back in its home port of Brest, five months after heading to India to be scrapped.

The French government was forced to recall the aircraft carrier because Indian workers refused to deal with the hazardous asbestos in its hulk.

The issue also thwarted attempts to scrap it in Spain or Turkey.

Tests are now planned to find out exactly how much asbestos is left on board and how France can deal with it.

The obsolete vessel docked amid tight security at the naval port of Brest on Wednesday morning, after a long and controversial journey to India and back.

Dozens of tugboats manoeuvred the aircraft carrier into its berth - the same one it occupied in 1961 when it began 36 years of service with the navy.

Soldiers rushed onto deck and commandos were positioned across the port to block access to the vessel.

Environmental groups and Indian trade unions protested for months to block the transfer of the Clemenceau to a scrapyard in Gujarat because of concerns over the health of the workers who would have had to deal with it.

CLEMENCEAU IN DETAIL
Built 1955
265m (878ft) long, 51m (170ft wide)
Deployed in 1982 - 1984 Lebanese civil war, 1991 Gulf War among others
Named after French WWI PM George Clemenceau
Featured in celebrated French TV car advertisement
Now known as Hull Q790

The Clemenceau, officially known as Q790 since being decommissioned, has proved to be one long toxic headache for France since being taken out of service in 1997.

And it may not be over yet, as the French authorities still have to decide how and where to have the Clemenceau dismantled.

The vessel will be thoroughly examined over the next few months to see how much asbestos - a carcinogenic substance is on board.

Officials put the amount at about 45 tons. Environmentalists estimate that there at least 500 tons in its hulk.

The government has also promised that the ship will not remain in Brest beyond 2008.

Unwanted

The ship was first sold to a Spanish firm, which should have taken out any hazardous asbestos waste before breaking up the vessel.

But the company discovered that could not be done within the EU because of health and safety laws.

The Clemenceau then headed for Turkey but had to be brought back.

A German firm took up the challenge and sent her to India for decontamination late last year.

But disaster struck once again with the journey turning to farce as Egypt stopped the ship after doubts over its safety before finally allowing it to proceed through the Suez Canal.

Once it was in India, it provoked huge controversy.

The Indian Supreme Court asked why workers there should deal with a vessel deemed too dangerous for Europeans to touch.

So French President Jacques Chirac was forced to agree that the Clemenceau would return to France until a solution could be found.





SEE ALSO:
France raises 'toxic' ship doubts
14 Feb 06 |  South Asia
India media ban over 'toxic' ship
13 Feb 06 |  South Asia
France will 'take back asbestos'
08 Feb 06 |  South Asia
Egypt grants 'toxic' ship passage
15 Jan 06 |  South Asia
Stay out, India tells toxic ship
06 Jan 06 |  South Asia
Asbestos ship on its way to India
03 Jan 06 |  South Asia


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