'Ghost ships' told to steer clear

DON'T send your "ghost ships" here was the message at Felixstowe today as government officials sought fresh shelter for the controversial toxic vessels.

DON'T send your "ghost ships" here was the message at Felixstowe today as government officials sought fresh shelter for the controversial toxic vessels.

Two of the ageing contaminated warships have already sailed past the Suffolk coast – and two more are en route.

But Whitehall officials, keen to diffuse the row over the boats being sent to Britain to be taken apart, are now seeking shelter for the vessels at other ports to try to shorten their journeys while the legal situation is sorted.

Shipping industry sources said that all ports – including the Haven Ports of Harwich, Ipswich and Felixstowe – could be asked to help out.

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But Felixstowe port said today that it had not been asked to give shelter to any vessel as yet and would not be keen to do so.

"As far as I am aware we have had not formal request or approach at this stage," said Paul Davey, port corporate affairs manager.

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"We do not have any suitable berths for these kind of ships or to give shelter – the port is very busy in any case and we do not have any spare berths.

"There is already great pressure on the berths that we have with the ships arriving to be unloaded."

The two vessels which have arrived at Hartlepool to be broken up are the first of 13 scheduled to come from America to be dismantled.

They have been towed across the Atlantic, along the English Channel and up the North Sea, 12 miles off the Suffolk coast.

The government has said the ships can be stored temporarily on Teesside, but there should be no dismantling, cutting or breaking up and they should be sent back to the US.

Able UK, the firm with the contract to dismantle the so-called ghost ships is taking legal action in the High Court to try to enable to work to proceed.

The ships are not carrying any cargo, but environmental campaigners say the vesselss ageing fabric could cause problems.

The ships were built when asbestos was widely used to line boilers, and toxic chemicals were used in their wires. Toxic substances on board also include PCBs, oil, ozone-depleting materials, mercury, and cadmium.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett has said the ships must return to the US on the grounds of "international rules and community law".

But with rough seas ahead the vessels can stay in the UK over winter until it is safe to make the return journey.

n Do you think they should be allowed to stop at Suffolk's ports? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

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