//India's Supreme Court refuses to stop "toxic" ship

India's Supreme Court refuses to stop "toxic" ship

12 May 2006 10:52:46 GMT, Source: Reuters

NEW DELHI, May 12 (Reuters) – India's Supreme Court refused on Friday to stop a former cruise liner that environmental activists say has hundreds of tonnes of toxic material on board from entering Indian waters.

Greenpeace and other groups say the 46,000-tonne Blue Lady contains more than 900 tonnes of asbestos and is sailing for Alang in the western state of Gujarat to be scrapped.

Indian yards lack the modern technology to safely handle such waste, putting the health of workers at risk, activists say.

The court instead referred the matter to an expert panel appointed by it earlier this year to look into the working conditions at Alang, home to scores of family-run shipbreakers.

"We will not pass any (banning) orders without a report," a judge said after hearing a plea by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Environment.

The court set the next hearing for July, when it would consider the evidence of experts, but environmental groups say the Blue Lady was expected to enter Indian waters in late May after setting sail from Malaysia.

In February, the French government recalled a mothballed aircraft carrier containing tonnes of asbestos, and being readied for scrapping at the Gujarat yards, after protests and court action led by Greenpeace.

"It is so unfortunate the government has failed to find a comprehensive solution to the problems of the ship-breaking industry that impact on workers' health," Ramapati Kumar, a Greenpeace campaigner said.

Thousands of workers in the ship-breaking industry in countries such as India, China and Pakistan had probably died over the past two decades in accidents or exposure to toxic waste, a Greenpeace report published in December said.

The Blue Lady, which entered service in 1962 under a different name, was owned by Malaysia's Star Cruises Ltd when a boiler room explosion killed seven of its crew in May 2003.