SC allows dismantling of Exxon Valdez at Alang

Prohibits future entry of ships for ship-breaking if they violate Basel Convention

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Monday 30 July 2012

After denying entry to the toxic-laden ship from the US, Oriental Nicety, the Supreme Court has allowed the dismantling of the ship at the Alang ship-breaking yard of Gujarat. The court in its order on July 30 also said that in future ships that violate the Basel Convention--an international treaty that bans transboundary movement of hazardous wastes--will not be allowed to be dismantled in India. Environmental activists said that court allowed the dismantling of the ship, formerly known as Exxon Valdez, because the Gujarat government presented it with a fait accompli.

Earlier in May, the same bench comprising Justice Altamash Kabir and J Chelameshwar had barred the entry of this ship into Indian territorial waters  on the ground that it violates the Basel Convention. The Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) officials, however, allowed the ship to enter Indian territorial waters and drop anchor off Bhavnagar coast on the ground that it needed to examine the contents of the ship. The vessel has a dubious history--it was responsible for the infamous Alaskan oil spill of 1989, which reportedly damaged over 1,700 sq km of coastline

The ship was supposed to arrive on May 9 at the Alang ship-breaking yard in Bhavnagar district. But its entry was held up after the Supreme Court intervened and passed an order on May 7, denying entry to the ship. Delhi-based non profit, Toxics Watch Alliance, the petitioner in the case, argued in court that GMB had allowed the ship to enter Indian waters in violation of the Basel Convention and an earlier order of the Supreme Court of 2003 which prohibits such vessels from entering Indian waters.

GMB officials stated in their affidavit that during inspection they did not find any toxic material aboard Exxon Valdez. “We have stated in our petition that no toxic material was found on the ship, therefore the ship could dismantled in Alang,” added an official. The petition had contended that the material used in ship building itself were toxic. Incidentally, the inventory of materials and their constituents aboard Exxon Valdez has not been put on record in the court, according to petitioning counsel Sanjay Parikh.        

The court while citing the Basel Convention had insisted that such vessels can only be allowed with prior informed consent from the host country and prior decontamination of vessels in the country of origin, said Parikh. The court has directed the Gujarat government that if any hazardous waste is found on the ship during dismantling, it should be disposed of through proper process in the landfill and the cost should be borne by the ship owner.

Reacting to the judgement, Gopal Krishna told Down To Earth that the judgment was strange as the court while banning such vessels in the future made an exception for Exxon Valdez, which violated the Basel Convention. “It appears that the government and ship owners presented the court with a fait accompli. However, if this judgment is followed in its letter and spirit, for me it is like losing a battle to win a war,” he added.

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