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Thursday, November 13, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Jeers greet first of U.S. 'ghost fleet' in England

By Jack Garland
The Associated Press

The former U.S. naval vessel Caloosahatchee enters the Tees estuary on its way for scrapping at the Able U.K. near Hartlepool, England.
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HARTLEPOOL, England — The first ship of an aging U.S. Navy flotilla arrived yesterday at a dockyard to the jeers of protesters who don't want the vessels scrapped there, fearing pollution.

The 58-year-old oil tanker Caloosahatchee, covered in flaking gray paint and mottled with rust, was pulled by three tugboats into the Able U.K. shipyard as a group of people demonstrated from a breakwater.

The protesters say the Caloosahatchee and the Canisteo, a tanker that will dock today, are carrying asbestos, PCBs and other toxins to an already polluted area of northeastern England.

Able U.K., which was hired to scrap the vessels, disputes the environmental risk and says dismantling the ships will bring 200 new jobs to Hartlepool, a depressed former shipbuilding town at the mouth of the River Tees.

"We cannot understand why this has had such a high profile. There is no risk here whatsoever," said Peter Stephenson, managing director of shipyard owner Able U.K. "These ships pose no greater threat than any of the work we have done in this harbor before."

Environmentalists say the ships contain tons of pollutants including PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls, which were used as electrical insulators but are suspected of causing cancer — and asbestos.

Able U.K. signed a contract to dismantle 13 ships from the U.S. Navy's reserve "ghost fleet" stored on the James River in Virginia, but nine of the ships are prohibited from moving because of a U.S. court order.

Four sailed for Britain, but last week a judge issued an order preventing Able U.K. from beginning dismantling work on the vessels.

The government has said the Caloosahatchee and the Canisteo can dock temporarily but should be sent back to the United States. The other two ships have been denied permission to dock in Britain but are still on their way.


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