US ship, Oriental Nicety, enters Indian waters despite Supreme Court restriction

Gujarat Maritime Board says court registrar gave it go ahead

Published: Saturday 30 June 2012

The Supreme Court order prohibiting the entry of the dead ship, Oriental Nicety, into Indian territorial waters seems to have had little deterrent effect on the government. The controversial US ship reached Bhavnagar in Gujarat on June 30, two days after the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) gave it permission enter Indian waters. While activists say this is in violation of  the Supreme court order, GMB officials say the permission is only for bringing in the ship for inspection.

GMB's move follows close on the heels of a Union environment ministry affidavit moved in the apex court during vacation, saying Gujarat authorities should decide on whether the ship should be given permission to beach for ship-breaking. Environmentalists are protesting the entry of the ship into the ship-breaking yards of Alang in Bhavnagar district, saying its dismantling here would be a public health hazard since it is made up of toxic materials like asbestos, glasswool and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The Supreme Court had denied entry to the ship, formerly known as Exxon Valdez, in May on a plea by Toxicswatch Alliance, a network of environmental activists.  The reason given was that the ship violated the Basel Convention, an international treaty which bans transboundary movement of hazardous material. The Convention and Indian laws require vessels that are to be dismantled be decontaminated and cleaned in the country of origin.

 The appeal demanding Oriental Nicety be turned back is part of the ongoing Supreme Court case on ship-breaking and hazardous waste management.

Between May and June, the owners of the ship appealed to the apex court,  requesting permission to dock the ship. On June 25, the court had refused to pass an order and merely noted that the Union of India has filed an affidavit stating that it is GMB that has to take a decision on whether the ship should be allowed into the concerned port for ship-breaking. Hemantika Wahi, advocate, appearing for GMB, had sought time to respond on the matter and the court had posted the matter for July 9 before the regular bench. 

Contempt of court, says petitioner

GMB officials now say they have received a note from the registrar of Supreme Court, stating that the Gujarat authorities are free to decide the fate of the ship, and so, they have permitted the ship into outer waters of the sea in Bhavnagar. Senior environmental engineer with GMB, Atul Sharma, said: “This permission is just so that we can inspect the ship and it is just the first of the many steps that are to be followed as per the Supreme Court order of 2003 and 2007 before the ship is dismantled.”  He added the 2003 and 2007 orders of the apex court direct the concerned authorities to ensure compliance with international treaties like the Basel Convention and Indian laws against hazardous waste trade.
Expressing surprise at GMB's green signal to the Exxon Valdez, senior  advocate Sanjay Parekh, who represents the petitioner, said, “We have not received official confirmation of this permission to bring in Exxon Valdez. But if the board has permitted the ship to come into Indian waters, the move is a violation of the Supreme Court orders.” He said that the ministry affidavit is not a court order and the petitioner will challenge the affidavit. Any action based on the affidavit without the court saying anything is contempt of court, he said.

GMB refuted the petitioners' claims and said the July 9 date set by the court is only to hear the status report of the board and does not pertain to this ship specifically.


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