13th Jul 2020

France demands EU approach to toxic warships

  • Around 1,000 old ships are waiting to be broken up in European ports (Photo: EUobserver)

France has demanded that the EU set up a working group to study ways to deal with ageing warships, after the French government last month had to bring home an asbestos-lined retired aircraft carrier on its way to be junked in India.

Meeting with her European counterparts in Innsbruck in Austria, French defence minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Tuesday (7 March) said that the issue of outdated equipment was posing a problem throughout the world, writes Le Monde.

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As a first step, the proposed working group would take inventory of Europe's retired warships with some estimates saying that around 1,000, possibly toxic, civil and military vessels are waiting to be scrapped in European ports.

The group should also examine methods currently used to dismantle and bury old warships, with the aim of improving them.

Following a ruling by the French supreme court, French president Jacques Chirac last month ordered the return of the warship Clemenceau to France. It had been on its way to a shipyard in India.

The case was brought to the courts in France as well as in India - where the boat had been sent for scrap - by Greenpeace and anti-asbestos groups concerned that the vessel contained unsafe amounts of asbestos.

An Indian court finally banned the 27,000-tonne toxic ship from entering Indian waters, while the French supreme court demanded the ship be transported back to France.

The incident has been described as a "political headache" for France after it received heavy criticism from NGOs who said Paris was trying to sneak out its "garbage" via the backdoor to countries that cannot afford to refuse it.

In Innsbruck, Ms Alliot-Marie denied that France was trying to turn the embarrassing Clemenceau event into a European problem rather than a French one.

"This is not about passing the buck. This is a problem that has been around for a long time," the minister said.

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