Court bid to keep rusting 'ghost fleet' out of UK

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The fate of a "ghost fleet" of dilapidated American ships which are to be broken up in Britain will be decided in court today after concerns about hazardous materials on board.

The 13 US Navy ships, containing PCBs, asbestos and heavy diesel, are destined to sail across the Atlantic to Hartlepool in Teeside.

But a judge at the Federal District Court for the district of Columbia will decide whether to grant a temporary restraining order against the US Maritime Administration.

The motion was lodged at a court in Washington yesterday by American environmentalists who feared a catastrophe if the ships broke up during the voyage.

The Environment Agency in Britain gave its approval to the deal following "stringent" examinations of the plant run by Able UK where the ships will be scrapped.

But Norman Baker, the environment spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said the £16m deal was an "environmental disaster in the making". He said: "Britain should not be used as a rubbish dump for dangerous chemicals from the US or any other country."

Able UK accused its critics of "scare mongering".