French Asbestos Ship Finds Final Home at Last

A decommissioned French aircraft carrier, the Clemenceau, will be dismantled at a naval salvage yard in the United Kingdom following years of embarrassing controversies surrounding the asbestos-contaminated vessel. The Clemenceau was sent to India for dismantling but an international outcry by political figures and environmental campaigners forced the Chirac government to bring it back to France in 2006. The Clemenceau has been moored offshore near the port city of Brest since that time, but will now be towed to the Able UK naval yard in England, on the River Tees. The French Defense Ministry will pay Able UK as much as $6.6 million for the dismantling. The British Environment Agency has issued Able UK a special waste management license to permit it to dismantle asbestos-contaminated ships and oil rigs at the facility. The Clemenceau will be the largest ship recycled in any European yard. The Able UK facility already has four American naval vessels and three ships from the Royal Navy awaiting dismantling.

Able UK was exempted from several sections of the UK’s Control of Asbestos Regulations to make it physically possible to handle the ships. Environmentalists had been opposed to the facility being allowed to work on the Clemenceau and other vessels, but withdrew opposition after Able UK promised to follow strict standards in the dismantling process and protect worker health. Ingvild Jenssen, a spokesman for the Platform on Shipbuilding, a coalition group of environmental concerns, said “Overall we are happy to see the ship going to the UK rather than India. As far as we know now, Able does have all its environmental permits and planning permits.” It will take 200 workers almost a year to break the ship down. The process requires the removal of non-metallic items such as furniture, draperies, and insulating materials (including asbestos). When the ship is down to the bare metal it will be broken up for scrap.