Council tries to sink scrapping of the 'ghost fleet'

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The Independent Online

The "ghost fleet" of contaminated US Navy ships heading for Hartlepool to be scrapped faced a new obstacle yesterday when the local council said the company intending to dismantle them, Able UK, did not have planning permission for its dry dock.

After the failure of a court case brought by environmentalists to keep the ships in dock in Virginia, the first two vessels in the flotilla of 13 left the US on Monday night for Teesside. The auxiliary oil tankers Canisteo and Caloosahatchee are being towed across the Atlantic by tug in a journey expected to last three weeks.

Two more ships are free to leave at any time, and another nine are being held in port while a court battle between the US Maritime Administration and American environmental groups goes on in Washington. Peter Stephenson, managing director of Able UK, was "confident all the necessary planning approvals are in place". But Hartlepool council said there was "no valid planning permission to allow for the construction of the proposed dam and the reinstatement of the dock gates, to provide a dry dock''. Green campaigners say that the ships, which are up to 50 years old and contaminated with chemicals including PCBs, asbestos and heavy diesel, could break up on the crossing, causing an environmental catastrophe.

The contract is worth £16m to the company and will create about 200 jobs.

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