Just when you thought it was safe to back into the water …

Image source: Le Monde

I love France and French people generally and I try and get to France at every opportunity. OK, so the Gitanes aren’t great for one’s health in enclosed public spaces, and you have to traverse public footpaths with some care on account of the high preponderance of dog turds that litter the pavements, but these things I can put up with because the French culture and lifestyle suit me so well. What never ceases to shock and stun me about this country, however, is its utterly appalling and quite reprehensible lack of concern for those on the receiving end of ill-conceived nuclear policy. The Rainbow Warrior fiasco will never be forgotten, nor too will the nuclear tests carried out the Pacific. The latest debacle surrounding the Clemenceau is also likely to stick in the memory banks for some time to come. This time it’s asbestos.

A French Judge by the name of Stéphane Brotons gave the go ahead late last year for the Clemenceau to set sail for Alang in Gujarat, India, where it is scheduled for dismantling. Outsourcing work to India is commonplace these days, of course, and the Indian economy has benefitted enormously, but one has to draw the line when a contract involves the export of pollution and potential ill-health. According to Greenpeace, Andeva (an association representing some 7,000 victims of asbestos poisoning or their relatives), and the environment group, Ban Asbestos-France, the Clemenceau still contains at least 105 tonnes of asbestos, and that the shipyard at Alang is not equipped to deal with such a dangerous pollutant.

The Clemenceau was built at the French naval yards at Brest on the western Atlantic Coast between 1955 and 1957, and was decommissioned Oct 1, 1997. The defence ministry sold it for scrap in 2003, but the buyer, a shipyard in Gijon in Spain, cancelled the sale after finding that the ship contained asbestos that had not been removed. The government tried to send it to Turkey and Greece for disposal but Greenpeace and other environmental groups stopped that move. Now it seems, the French government has found the least point of resistance in India, and is seemingly indifferent to claims that it is violating the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and threatening the lives of poor Indian workers.