Asbestos ship’s wanderings may be over

23 September 2006

Asbestos ship’s wanderings may be over

The news that the asbestos ship Otapan is on its way back from the Mediterranean to the Netherlands has now been confirmed by the environment ministry. The ship has been recalled as a result of the risks it poses for public health and the environment, as SP Member of Parliament and environment spokeswoman Krista van Velzen demanded during yesterday’s debate.

Ms Van Velzen asked Secretary of State Pieter van Geel to ensure that the ship returned directly to a suitable port and to determine before its arrival that the asbestos it contains will be disposed of in a responsible manner. “It’s good that Van Geel is no longer allowing this ship to wander the seas, risking the owner deciding to have it scuttled or sent to a breaking yard with low health and environmental standards in India or Pakistan,” she said. “It’s extremely important that it isn’t allowed to leave Amsterdam or another Dutch port for a second time and that before it arrives clear arrangements are made for its decontamination.”

Amsterdam authorities have, under pressure from the SP’s councillors in the city, promised that the asbestos ship would be allowed into the port only if an agreement over such arrangements has been arrived at.

It is still not known whether the asbestos is in fact still on board. The Otapan is currently in the region of Greece, and given the time of year, the weather in the Mediterranean is likely to deteriorate, with all the dangers that entails.

Who will pay for the cleaning up of the Turkish ship is as yet unknown. Van Velzen argues that the Ministry of the Environment should not delay decontamination until an answer to this has become clear, though she adds that the state should ensure that the costs are recuperated from those responsible – that the polluter should pay.

The ship has been moored in Amsterdam harbour since as long ago as 1999 before embarking at the end of July with a cargo of 54,000 kgs of asbestos. The intention was to scrap the ship in Turkey. Documentation was found massively to underestimate the quantity of asbestos on board – claiming that there was no more than 1,000 kgs – as a consequence of which the ship was denied access to Turkish waters, as well as to ports in Lesbos and Malta. Mr Van Geel has recognised that the Netherlands bears a great responsibility in the matter and must find a solution to it, something which the SP has argued all along.

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