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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 September 2007, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Indian court clears 'toxic' ship
Blue Lady
The Blue Lady was once the pride of France
A former ocean liner can be broken up in India despite concerns it contains toxic waste, the Supreme Court says.

The judgement came after experts were asked to decide if it was safe to scrap the Blue Lady at the giant breaking yard at Alang in western Gujarat state.

Environmentalists say the Blue Lady, formerly the SS France and then the SS Norway, contains tonnes of toxic waste.

In June 2006, the court allowed the vessel to enter Indian waters but said it must stay anchored off the coast.

Bangladesh banned the vessel from its waters in February 2006.

'Not safe'

Tuesday's ruling follows a year of controversy over the fate of the ship.

Workers in Alang ship-breaking yard
Campaigners say dismantling should not be allowed at Alang

The Supreme Court judges said their decision was based on the report submitted by the expert committee set up to decide whether it was safe to dismantle the liner.

"Since the court has accepted the technical expert committee report, we permit the Blue Lady to be dismantled," said Supreme Court judge SH Kapadia, Reuters news agency reports.

Details of the order were not immediately available.

The Indian Platform on Ship-Breaking, an alliance of groups including Greenpeace and the Ban Asbestos Network, had lobbied for the ship not to be broken up.

Environmental groups say the 11-storey, 315-metre-long, liner contains 1,200 tonnes of asbestos and other toxic materials.

"We are very disappointed," Madhumita Dutta of Ban Asbestos Network told the BBC.

"Last week, the Supreme Court said if a contaminated ship comes to India, it should be sent back. It's been proved beyond doubt that Blue Lady contains all sorts of toxic material. How can the court allow it to be dismantled?" she asked.

The alliance says Indian yards lack the technology to deal with such waste and workers will be exposed to unacceptable risk.

Last year, a study commissioned by the government confirmed that one in six workers at the Alang ship yards showed signs of asbestos poisoning.

Hotel or museum

The Blue Lady, now owned by an Indian firm, was once the pride of the French shipping industry when it was the SS France.

Artist Salvador Dali and pop star David Bowie were among its celebrity passengers.

Ship-lovers and ecologists alike have battled to prevent the vessel from being scrapped.

There was a proposal to convert the liner into a floating hotel. Campaigners in the France Liner Association want to see it turned into a museum.

Alang, known as the graveyard of ships, has been the last port of call for countless ships from around the world. Thousands of workers take apart huge liners, past their prime, with their hands and very basic tools.

Last year, the French government bowed to pressure and recalled the decommissioned aircraft carrier Clemenceau while it was en route to Alang.

The Alang Ship Breaking Association has in the past denied charges of asbestos poisoning.

The Gujarat Maritime Board, which administers the yards, says the workers are provided with equipment and adequate training to ensure their safety.


SEE ALSO
'Asbestos risk' for India workers
06 Sep 06 |  South Asia
'Toxic ship' reaches Indian state
15 Aug 06 |  South Asia
India faces second 'toxic' ship
09 May 06 |  South Asia
Dhaka bans 'toxic' French liner
16 Feb 06 |  South Asia
Chirac orders 'toxic' ship home
16 Feb 06 |  Europe

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