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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 18:00 GMT
Protests greet Hartlepool's 'visitor'
By John Thorne
BBC North of England correspondent in Hartlepool

The first of the former US Navy ships to dock in the UK
The Caloosahatchee, first of the "ghost fleet", docks in Hartlepool

The protests were homemade but the message rang clear, as conservation campaigners in Hartlepool spelt out how unwelcome their new American visitor was.

Messages etched onto bed sheets and plywood were pulled out on to the Victorian promenade to "greet" the scrapped US Navy vessel Caloosahatchee as it completed its Atlantic crossing.

Cameramen and photographers wanted to picture the dozen or so men and women on the beach of Seaton Carew.

The demonstrators say its golden sands are threatened by toxic chemicals inside the 58-year-old ship, a Second World War oil refuelling supplier.

The people who are putting all this filth and rubbish on us ought to be ashamed.
Hartlepool grandmother Jean Kennedy
The placards spelt it out. One said: "Killer ships kill people". Another read: "This is our home not America's dump".

The photographers, wanting to show the many contrasts surrounding this story, also captured in the background the heavy industrial tradition of Teesside - the smoke and flames of the huge Redcar steel works, the pipes and flare towers of the chemical plants and the Teesside oil refineries.

The heritage of the area is one which means a lot to protesters such as Jean Kennedy, a grandmother from Hartlepool.

She told me: "I am holding up the banner to protest for my grandson and the children of this town and all the children to come.

"The people who are putting all this filth and rubbish on us ought to be ashamed."

Security operation

But despite the protests, the first of the redundant US Navy supply vessels duly docked as planned at the Able UK demolition shipyard, nudged and cajoled alongside the quay by three powerful Teesside tugboats.

Bringing the Caloosahatchee into the dock was a major security operation.

A police launch patrolled this major sea channel, plus there were other officers watching from the sand dunes and the beaches ready to intercept any major protests.

But there were no incidents and the grey north eastern skies brightened as the rusty American naval vessel slowly reached its winter berth.

It will not be alone for long. A second ship, the Canisteo, arrives on the tide on Thursday. Two more redundant US Navy ships are still crossing the Atlantic.

Toxic ingredients

And despite the legal challenges the High Court will decide - brought by Friends of the Earth and local residents - Able UK is confident the vessels will not be returned across the Atlantic, as the Environment Agency has predicted.

Let the court case resolve the licence issues so we can commence the dismantling work.
Peter Stephenson
Able UK managing director
Instead, they will be broken up in Hartlepool and recycled with the toxic ingredients of asbestos, mercury and PCBs safely disposed of in the New Year.

Able's managing director Peter Stephenson, who insists this is just another demolition contract, said: "I am looking forward to seeing the remaining ships getting in now. Let the court case resolve the licence issues so we can commence the dismantling work."

As I watch, Environment Agency officials check over the ship to see that she is safe and poses no risk to the environment.

"This stored vessel exposes neither the environment nor the public to any greater risk than much of the shipping going in and out of UK ports on a daily basis," an Agency statement said.

As the protesters leave to return another day, one symbol remains of their concerns surrounding the dock's newest inhabitant.

A red plastic floating boom is across the demolition dock entrance - part of the strict conditions in place, says the Environment Agency, to protect the local wildlife in the estuary.




SEE ALSO:
'Ghost ships' allowed to dock
06 Nov 03  |  Tees
Inquiry into ghost ships deal
03 Nov 03  |  Tees
Q&A: Ghost ships
07 Nov 03  |  England


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