LONDON (UK) – Friends of the Earth is today taking the final steps to prevent a fleet of toxic US navy vessels from arriving to the UK for dismantling. Friends of the Earth is today (Wednesday 5th November 10.30 am UK time) asking the High Court in London to quash a modification to a waste management licence granted to the company ‘Able UK’ allowing it to dispose of ships from the so-called US ‘ghost fleet’.

The UK Environment Agency has written to Friends of the Earth stating that it will not resist the application.

“Following our legal action, the Environment Agency has finally acknowledged that the licences are ‘invalid’. These licences must now be formally revoked, and the UK Government must act to force these toxic ships to be returned to the United States where they can be disposed of safely,” said Friends of the Earth International vice- chair Tony Juniper.

The UK Environment Agency modified the ‘Able UK’ licence in September 2003, but last week announced that the modification was ‘invalid’ after Friends of the Earth started legal proceedings.

Friends of the Earth has argued throughout that the necessary permissions for the licence modification have not been in place, and for this reason the modification must now be formally revoked or quashed.

Four ships, classified as toxic waste due to the high levels of asbestos and non-liquid PCBs contained in their structure, are expected to arrive in UK waters within the next few days.

Three individuals from Teesside (UK) are also taking legal action against the UK Government quango [2], calling for an immediate injunction to prevent dismantling work being carried out on the ships.

Friends of the Earth International is the world’s largest grassroots environmental federation with 68 national member groups in as many countries and around one million individual members.


In London (UK): Press Office Friends of the Earth (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) +44-207566 1649


[1] The Canisteo and Caloosahatchee each contains 34.1 tonnes of non-liquid PCBs and 61 tonnes of asbestos; the Compass Island contains 47.3 tonnes of non-liquid PCBs and 252 tonnes of asbestos; the Canopus contains 286 tonnes of non-liquid PCBs and 252 of asbestos.

[2] The three Hartlepool residents are represented by Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers 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. [Contact Phil Shiner on +44-121 212 1868].


Key issues:

  1. Friends of the Earth returns to the High Court on Weds 5 Nov at 10:30 to call for a Judicial Review of the Environment Agency?s decision to modify a waste management license held by Able UK. Interviewees will be available – contact FoE media team on +44-207566 1649
  2. Four Toxic Ships are currently on their way to Hartlepool on Teeside (UK) -being towed by tugs, travelling from the James River, Virginia, US east towards waters off the south west of England. Given that the ships do not have permission to be scrapped in Hartlepool, there is a real risk that that the ships could be left circling or at anchor in British waters, exposed to winter storms.
  3. The first two ships (Caloosahatchee and Canisteo) are due to arrive in UK waters on Thurs 6 Nov – off the south west coast of Cornwall. Compass Island and the Canopus are approximately 7 days behind.
  4. As far as Friends of the Earth are aware the Environment Agency has ‘requested’ that the ships return to America but has not yet legally required them to do so.
  5. Friends of the Earth has written to Environment Minister Elliot Morley asking him to make it clear that toxic ships from the US ghost fleet must not enter UK waters and to inform Able and MARAD that they will not be allowed to enter.
  6. MARAD – (Marine Administration Department) – the US Government Department that owns the ships – is refusing to acknowledge the Environment Agency’s -request- that the ships turn back. Friends of the Earth have repeatedly written to MARAD informing them of absence of permissions and the regulatory omissions. MARAD have not responded to any of our letters.
  7. Have the ships got legal permission to enter UK waters – ‘ Boats and ships don’t need permission toenter UK waters ‘ However, the fleet of toxic ships are formally classified as an international ‘waste’ shipment and need permission. Powers to protect UK waters from marine pollution incidents are granted to SOSREP (Secretary of State’s Representative – Robin Middleton) who represents Alistair Darling (Secretary of State for Transport). SOSREP has powers to turn the ships back and to order them out of British waters if he considers that they pose a pollution threat.
  8. Clear view from UK Government about toxic ships entering UK waters –
    Neither the following has been able to give Friends of the Earth an answer:
    ‘ The Maritime Coastguard Agency’ (part of the UK Department for Transport) has said it is a matter for the Environment Agency
    ‘Environment Agency’ has said it is a matter for Maritime Coastguard Agency
    6. Have the ships got permission to dock in Teesside?
    i) Trans Frontier Shipment of Waste Nofitification (TFS) – NO LONGER ‘VALID’
    – A TFS allows waste to be shipped around the world or imported into the UK
    – The Environment Agency has said the TFS is no longer ‘valid’ BUT, so far as we know, have not yet formally revoked it
    – Without a valid TFS the toxic ships are unable lawfully to enter the UK
    – it is not clear what this means in terms of entering UK waters.
    – Powers to bring the ships into port is through the Environment Agency and the Port Authority.
    ii) ‘Modified’ Waste Management Licence – NO LONGER ‘VALID’
    – Able UK has an existing licence to deal with toxic waste but not with the toxic fleet. The Waste Management Licence was modified by the Environment Agency to allow Able to deal with the disposal of the US ships. However, the modification was unlawfully granted and therefore no longer stands. That was the subject of Friends of the Earth’s legal challenge.
    – The Environment Agency has said the modified Waste Management Licence is no longer ‘valid’ BUT the Agency have not yet formally revoked it.
    iii) What happens now?
    – Decision needs to be taken on what happens to 4 ships already en route to UK.
    – Able UK now needs to reapply for a fresh WML and resolve outstanding regulatory issues.
    – MARAD needs to apply for a new TFS when all the permissions are in place.
    – US environmental pressure group, Basel Action Network, supports Friends of the Earth’s call to send the ships back to America, assuming certain conditions (no tandem towing, under escort, if weather conditions bad over wintered in a US naval base somewhere in Europe).
    – Hartlepool District Council voted on November 4 at an emergency full council meeting to call on UK Secretary of State for Transport Alistair Darling to send the ships back to the US.