EPA Targets Export of Ancient PCB-Laden Cruise Ship
SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 18, 2008 (ENS) - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a federal complaint against Global Shipping and Global Marketing Systems, Inc. for distribution in commerce and export of materials containing PCBs on the old cruise liner MV Oceanic, formerly the SS Independence.

The ship is being sent by Global to be scrapped overseas, the EPA declared. The MV Pacific Hickory is towing the MV Oceanic to its final destination.

Fines against these two companies may be assessed up to $32,500 per violation per day.

"Federal law prohibits companies from exporting PCBs, including those in ships, that are sent overseas to be scrapped," said Rich Vaille, associate director for waste program enforcement in the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. "When companies illegally export PCB waste, they are circumventing U.S. requirements for proper disposal. PCB waste must be properly disposed to protect public health and the environment."

A postcard shows the MV Oceanic in her heyday as a cruise liner. (Image courtesy BAN)

Global has 30 days to file an answer to the complaint to avoid a penalty assessment without a hearing.

"The EPA was not informed by Global of their intention to export the ship for disposal. The previous owners, Norwegian Cruise Lines, bought the ship through a wholly owned subsidiary with the intent to put it into service in the United States. The paperwork showing that Norwegian Cruise Lines had sold the vessel to Global was not submitted to the Maritime Administration until the ship had already sailed," the EPA said.

The Basel Action Network, a global toxic trade watchdog organization based in the United States, in February alerted the EPA to the "quiet departure" of the Oceanic from San Francisco Bay on February 8 for the stated destination of Singapore.

"This sneaky export in Friday's fog should never have happened as it is a blatant violation of the law," said Jim Puckett, coordinator of the Basel Action Network. "Our laws prevent the export of PCBs either for commerce or disposal, and Singapore also is prohibited from importing this vessel from the U.S. under their international obligations. We demand that the U.S. government orders this renegade US flagged .hip returned to San Francisco at once," he said.

Export of PCB materials from the United States is a violation of EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act, said Vaille. Vessels such as the MV Oceanic, which was built in the early 1950s, were commonly constructed with PCB-containing materials including cables, electrical equipment such as capacitors and transformers, watertight seal material, and painted surfaces.

More than 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs were manufactured in the United States before the EPA banned the production of this chemical class in 1978. EPA imposed the ban after tests showed that PCBs cause cancer in animals and adversely affect the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems in humans.

The Basel Action Network asserts that it is "almost a certainty" that the ship is headed for the ship-breaking beaches of Bangladesh or India. There, the environmental organization says, "massive profits can be made due to the high price of steel and because the ships will be dismantled by some of Asia's poorest workers in horrific conditions without proper protective equipment and environmental safeguards being applied."

"The motivation of gleaning gross profit from poisoning the poor is clear and the authorities in both the US and Singapore must cooperate to do everything possible to prevent this devastating and illegal outcome." said Puckett. "This ship represents death and disease for unsuspecting Asian workers - it is a floating timebomb that must be returned at once and cleaned up."

Meanwhile, preservation organizations say the rush to scrap vessels due to the recent high prices of metals is causing the rapid "extinction" of our last remaining classic liners. They are calling on the federal government to exercise the National Historic Preservation Act to save the the SS Independence, one of the last two such remaining vessels.

"This ship is a priceless historic monument that deserves to be preserved as a museum or hotel for the enjoyment and awe of generations to come," said Erik James of Save the Classic Liners Campaign. "That should be her future, not one of death and destruction on the beaches of India."

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