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Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Able UK's TERRC yard on Teesside
The US Ghost Ships
The US Ghost Ships sparked an international debate over ship recycling.

Able UK shot to international fame over its plans to import and recycle more than a dozen former US military vessels.

They were part of the so called 'Ghost Fleet' of decommissioned ships.

After years of legal wrangling, just four of the ships ended up at Able's Graythorpe Dock.

They were joined by the former French Aircraft carrier Clemenceau, which arrived in 2009.

History

Able UK in pictures
Graythorp Dock

Able UK bought the Graythorp site on the North bank of the Tees Estuary in 1996.

The site lies next to Able UK's own Seaton Meadows landfill site. The two were combined to create the TERRC (Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre) recycling facility.

Initially, the company brought in and dismantled offshore modules that had reached the ends of their lives.

It wasn't until July 2003, when the company signed an £11m deal with the US Marine Administration to dismantle 13 former naval vessels that it really hit the headlines.

The 'Ghost Ships' at Graythorp

Environmental groups objected to the US towing its military waste across the Atlantic for disposal and launched a series of media and legal challenges to the move, citing concerns about the impact of Asbestos and PCBs used in ships of that period.

They claimed there was a risk of them escaping into the environment, both during transit and during dismantling on Teesside.

In the end, only four of the US ships arrived at Graythorp; the Canopus, Compass Island, Canisteo and Caloosahatchee.

They were joined at Graythorp Dock in early 2009 by the former French aircraft carrier, Clemenceau, which was also to be decommissioned.

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February 2009: the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau arrives on Teesside

Once all those vessels were in place, work began to close the dock off and drain it to create, at ten hectares, the largest dry dock in the world (almost twice the size of the previous largest at Nigg Bay, Cromarty Firth and ten times the size of the famous Harland and Wolff dry dock in Belfast).

In all, Able UK says it has invested £50m at the site since purchase, and in November 2010, announced plans for a further £10m investment to upgrade the dry dock.

How to dismantle a ship

The four US Ghost Ships at Graythorp weighed 40,365 tonnes, collectively. Le Clemenceau was 32,700 tonnes.

Most was steel and could be taken apart, melted down and resold, though if a module, or hull section was still useful, it could be removed in one piece and sold on. For example, Able UK's neighbours, Tees Alliance Group set up office in the accommodation module of an oil rig brought to the site in 2008 for dismantling.

Around 2% of the vessels are made from materials that contain asbestos or PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). That means around 1461.3 tonnes of waste containing toxic material that needed to be dealt with.

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January 2009: Able UK's development director Neil Etherington talks about preparations to recycle the US Ghost Ships

Asbestos is a strictly controlled substance, as its dust can cause lethal lung conditions if inhaled. Able UK's Development Director, Neil Etherington told BBC Tees, "Asbestos is handled in a strictly controlled environment which includes personal monitors, full protection and negative air pressure.

"This is done, as a minimum, in full compliance with current legislation. The asbestos is isolated and packed and double wrapped in specially designed plastic prior to being placed in secure steel containers."

The containers are then disposed of at Able UK's Seaton Meadows licensed landfill site, next to Graythorp.




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