The notorious odyssey is at last over for the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau. It has arrived in northeast England Sunday last for scrapping.
Ironically while environmentalists themselves could be cock-a-hoop with joy that chickens are coming home to roost at last, deservedly, the decommissioning job comes as a boon to the depressed economy of Britain.
In February 2006 the Greenpeace, a noted environmental movement, had forced President Jacques Chirac to call back the ship to France from its journey to the ship-breaking yards in Alang, India.
The ship left France on December 31, 2005, under a huge cloud of controversy after Greenpeace and other organisations launched a campaign to stop the Clemenceau's export to India to be broken up because it contains a toxic cocktail of asbestos, PCBs and heavy metals. Greenpeace declared that the quantities of hazardous wastes still on board deemed the shipment as illegal trade under the Basel Convention - the international treaty that prohibits the export of toxic wastes from developed nations to non-OECD countries.
Two activists boarded the ship off the coast of Egypt and hung banners reading "Absestos carrier: stay out of India." In the face of mounting protests, the French government had to call back the ship.
Pascal Husting, Greenpeace France Executive Director, had said then, "This is a huge victory for the environment, and for the campaign headed up by Greenpeace and other organisations. In today's globalised world it is vital that nations, such as France and India, co-operate to uphold global justice and not shamelessly pass on their responsibility to those in vulnerable areas of the planet."
Earlier the ship had earlier been rejected by Turkey and Greece, after the original plan to turn it into an artificial reef was scrapped for environmental reasons, the group said.
The British ship recycling company that will now scrap it had to apply for special permission from the country's Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive.
But the company, Able Ship Recycling, hailed its arrival in the English city of Hartlepool as a milestone.
"The dismantling of the vessel will be the largest ship recycling project ever undertaken in Europe," the company said in a statement.
The work will take place at the company's Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre, where it will produce about 200 jobs in the economically depressed region.
Able chairman and chief executive Peter Stephenson said the contract was "crucially important... at a time when there are so many economic problems facing the world -- and especially a region such as the north-east of England."
"Recycling the Q790 will be the largest project so far handled by any European yard but, with the biggest dry dock in the world, we have the capacity to undertake the recycling of the vessel," he added.
Launched in 1957, the Clemenceau was the mainstay of the French naval fleet and sailed over a million nautical miles before being withdrawn from active service after almost four decades at sea, the company said. It will join the other three UK and four U.S. vessels also being recycled at the center, Able said.
The arrival of the vessel has divided opinion among environmentalists. Some groups are furious to see it come to Teesside, saying the French should deal with it themselves. Others see the fact that it is being dismantled in an EU licensed yard, rather than on the beaches of India, which was nearly its fate, as progress, at least.
The Environment Agency says rigorous controls are in place to ensure asbestos from Le Clemenceau dont damage the people's health.