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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 21:47 GMT
'Ghost ship' docks on Teesside
The Caloosahatchee arrived on Teesside on Wednesday
The first of the former US navy ships at the centre of a legal and environmental row over their disposal has moored on the River Tees in north-east England.

The rusting oil tanker Caloosahatchee was met by protesters near Able UK's Hartlepool yard on Wednesday afternoon.

The firm has been blocked from starting to dismantle the ship, and other vessels in the so-called "ghost fleet".

Able's managing director Peter Stephenson said the company stood to lose a 3.4m bond if the work could not be completed.

He said further contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds which depended on the dry dock that would be built to carry out the work were also at stake.

Public inquiry

Mr Stephenson said: "There is a lot of money riding on it and if this doesn't go ahead this is the end of the whole dry dock which would be a tremendous asset for the area.

"I have had inquiries for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of work, but if we do not get this then it will be the end of the refurbishment of the dry dock."

Earlier Mr Stephenson said he could not understand why the ships had such a high media profile, saying there was "no risk here whatsoever" from the fleet.

He said he was confident the work would eventually go ahead.

The UK government has said the Caloosahatchee and a sister ship can be stored temporarily on Teesside, but should be sent back to the US.

Two further ships are on their way across the Atlantic.

Protesters say the ships contain asbestos, PCBs, fuel oil and other waste.

They have called for a public inquiry into the government's handling of the affair.

Mike Childs, UK campaigns director for environmental pressure groups Friends of the Earth said: "We don't want these ships in the UK.

"America has the capacity to deal with its own waste and the moral obligation to do so."

US ghost fleet
The people who are putting all this filth and rubbish on us ought to be ashamed
Hartlepool grandmother Jean Kennedy

Caroline Spelman, Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment said: "[Tony] Blair has a golden opportunity when he meets President Bush next week to tell him we don't want the 'ghost ships'.

"Blair must admit his government have made a mistake.

"They have gone against the people's wishes and made the decision without the correct planning permission in place.

"The environment secretary has now said the boats will return to the US. Together they must make it happen."

On Wednesday, it emerged the Environment Agency had approved a modification of a waste management licence to allow the ships to dock in Hartlepool.

Conditions will be imposed which will prevent any breaking up of the US vessels in the UK.

Safe job

The High Court has also blocked any work on dismantling the ships until crucial legal challenges have been heard.

Able UK must convince a court it has the correct permissions to carry out the work.

But business leaders in the region issued a statement backing Able UK and criticised the way the situation had been handled.

North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive George Cowcher said: "It's high time that some common sense was applied with regard to this recycling contract which Able UK has won because it has world class expertise in this field.

"There has been far too much ill-informed talk about potential environmental problems and this has fuelled a debate which has blown context out of all proportion."

Oils and oily ballast water could cause damage to the marine environment.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen but is denser than water and non-soluble.
PCBs have been called "probable carcinogens" and have been linked with neurological and developmental problems in humans.
Mercury, lead, chromium and cadmium are highly toxic metals which accumulate in the body.

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The ship's presence here splits a community"

Firm upbeat over toxic ship work
12 Nov 03  |  Business
'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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