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November 6, 2003

U.K. court blocks work on MARAD "ghost ships"

Britain's High Court yesterday blocked any work on dismantling the so-called "ghost ships" headed for Britain from the U.S. until legal challenges have been resolved.

Friends of the Earth says it went to the High Court in London to ask the judge to quash a modification to a waste management license granted by Britain's Environment Agency to Able UK in September. The Environment Agency agreed to Friends of the Earth's application, as it now believes the modification is invalid, however it was contested by lawyers for Able UK. The case will now be heard in the week commencing December 8. A further legal challenge by three local residents to Able's plans will be heard on December 16 and 17.

Friends of the Earth says the modification of the license "allowed Able UK to increase the amount of waste it could deal with on Teesside, and the company planned to use this to allow it to dispose of the boats from the toxic ghost fleet. But in an extraordinary twist, it was revealed in court that the waste management licence does not cover ships."

Email correspondence from the Environment Agency to Able UK, sent on Sunday November 2 and obtained by Friends of the Earth, "not only makes it clear that the modification to the licence cannot stand, but that the original waste licence does not cover the disposal of ships." According to Friends of the Earth, the Environment Agency told Able:

"The maximum quantity of waste which may be received at the site is 24,500 tonnes per annum and the WML does not permit the dismantling of ships."

Friends of the Earth says it is "urgently exploring legal avenues to force the Government to send these boats back."

The BBC reports Able UK saying it would have preferred to begin work on the vessels immediately, but understood why the judge had made the decision.

"We are confident that our TERRC (Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre) facility is fully equipped to ensure that the vessels can be moored and kept in a safe condition until the hearing scheduled for December 8," said a company statement.

At the December hearing, Able UK will ask the court to declare that a modification to the waste management licence preventing it from disposing of the ships was invalid.

Justice Maurice Kay decided the injunction should be granted until the week beginning December 8 and ruled that, if the ships came to port, no work should take place "except for measures to make and keep them safe".

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