LONDON (UK) – The UK Environment Agency has backed down over its decision to allow the so-called US ‘Ghost Fleet’ of toxic ships to be scrapped in the UK, following the threat of legal proceedings by Friends of the Earth. The Agency today announced that the waste management licence granted to Able UK is invalid, and that the appropriate environmental assessment has not been carried out.

This means the ships cannot legally be dismantled on Teeside, UK.

Friends of the Earth (EWNI) began legal action against the UK Government regulator yesterday by asking the High Court for a Judicial Review of the Agency’s decision to grant a waste license to Able UK. The Environment Agency has now said Able’s licence is invalid as it doesn’t have planning permission in place as a full environmental assessment has not been made of the affects of dismantling the ships in without a dry dock.

Dismantling cannot take place without a current waste management licence.

According to the Agency, if the ships can’t be dismantled without threatening the environment, regulations provide for the waste to be returned to the country of origin.

Friends of the Earth is today writing to the US Government, the Coastguard and Hartlepool Borough Council to make all parties aware that the ships do not have legal permission to be scrapped in Hartlepool and must be sent back to America.

Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director, Tony Juniper, said:

“The Environment Agency must now make it clear that the ships must not be allowed to enter UK waters and must send them back to the United States. This is a real victory for the environment and for local people on Teesside.”

“We are delighted that the Agency has realised it exists to protect the environment rather than help America get rid of its waste overseas.”

The wildlife sites threatened by the toxic ships are protected under domestic, European and international law because of their importance for water bird species including the Knot, Shelduck and Redshank.

Three individuals from Teesside have started legal proceedings against the Hartlepool Borough Council and the Government quango[1] calling for an immediate injunction to prevent dismantling work being carried out on the ships on the basis that the Environment Agency did not take into account the ‘proximity principle’ that requires waste to be treated where it arises.


The ships contain over 500,000 gallons of fuel and oil, and have been classified as having a high potential to leak by the US Marine Administration and posing a significant risk to the environment. The risk to US wildlife sites is one of the reasons why the US Marine Administration is under pressure to remove the ships from the James River in Virginia. On 30 September 2003 the Environment Agency gave the green light to the ships leaving the States to come to Britain when it agreed to modify a Waste Management Licence (WML) issued to ABLE UK allowing it to dismantle greater quantities of redundant sea structures. Four boats have already left (the Canisteo and Caloosahatchee) and are currently due on Teesside around 9 Nov. The next two are Compass Island and Canopus. A further 9 ships could be sent to Britain in spring 2004. Able UK, the company carrying out the scrapping operation, had applied for a planning license to build a dry-dock to deal with the boats but withdrew the application hours before a decision was to be made that an Environmental Impact Assessment was required. Able then sought to rely on an old planning permission to build a ‘rock-filed bund’ which they accepted was not as environmentally friendly as the cofferdam but were told that the planning permission had lapsed and that they would have to apply again and would probably need to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment.

Friends of the Earth opposes the import to the UK of boats from the US ghost Fleet because: The United States has the facilities and capacity to deal with the toxic fleet. The boats, which are in varying states of disrepair, are heavily polluted with oil, asbestos, PCBs and other toxic material. Bringing them to Teesside is extremely hazardous and poses serious pollution threat. An assessment into the potential environmental and economic threats posed has not been carried out. Local communities have not been adequately consulted. The area involved has suffered years of environmental injustices and a vision of a cleaner and healthier future must be developed and implemented.


[1] The three Hartlepool residents are represented by Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers ( 0121 212 1868)


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