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New setback for troubled ship as India bars beaching

The company that bought the tanker formerly known as Exxon Valdez has been barred from beaching it at the Alang ship-breaking yard by the Indian Supreme Court.

The company that bought the tanker formerly known as Exxon Valdez - infamous for creating one of America's biggest oil spills - has been barred from beaching it at the Alang ship-breaking yard by the Indian Supreme Court.

The 213,000-tonne ship first entered Indian waters more than a month ago and has been at anchor awaiting the necessary paperwork before being run up the beach to be broken up.

However, its new owner, Best Oasis, the shipbreaking subsidiary of Priya Blue Industries of Gujarat, was yesterday informed of the court's ruling that stated the ship cannot be beached until it has been decontaminated.

The ruling followed a petition by the Indian environmental group, the Research Foundation for Science (RFS), which asserted the ship, now called Oriental Nicety and converted to a bulk carrier, was in breach of the Basel Convention, an international shipping accord.

The convention, which deals with the movement of condemned ships, is designed to prevent "dumping" of vessels in less developed countries.

Under its rules, ships destined for breakers' yards must first have all toxic waste and materials such as asbestos, printed circuit boards and heavy metals, such as mercury, removed in the exporting country.

RFS said in its petition that the ship was already in breach of the convention and should be ordered to leave Indian waters.

"Though it has not yet been allowed to berth in any of the ports, the ship, which is alleged to be contaminated, has entered Indian waters without taking proper steps for decontamination in the port of export," said Sanjay Parekh, a solicitor for RFS, after the ruling.

"We will abide with the Supreme Court order. We are studying the order, and will appeal," a spokesman for Best Oasis told The Times of India yesterday.

The former tanker, built in 1986, was sold by its previous owners, the Chinese shipping company Cosco, to the ship demolition brokers GMC for US$15.8 million (Dh58m) in March, before being sold on to the breakers' in India.

The ship's notoriety dates back to the spring of 1989, when television stations around the world showed endless footage of sea birds and seals floundering in black, viscous crude after the Exxon Valdez ripped a hole in its hull on Bligh Reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound, disgorging 32 million gallons of cargo.

The accident, then the worst environmental disaster in United States history, surpassed only by BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, caused an estimated $15bn of damage and prompted a fundamental rethinking of tanker design.

ExxonMobil, the largest US oil company, spent three years and $3.86bn to clean up the spill, which damaged 1,120km of coastline and killed more than 36,000 birds, according to the US environmental protection agency.

Since the disaster, the ship's name has been changed five times.

It has sailed under two flags of convenience - the Marshall Islands and Panama - and been involved in a major collision at sea.

Several years after the disaster, it was prohibited by law from re-entering Prince William Sound when Exxon tried to return it to work in US waters.


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Updated: May 10, 2012 04:00 AM