Environmentalists yesterday tacitly admitted defeat in their campaign to stop four contaminated "ghost ships" being scrapped in Britain.
In an abrupt U-turn, Friends of the Earth, which led the campaign and was "exploring legal avenues to force the Government to send the boats back", said the best solution was now likely to be the scrapping of the US ships in Britain.
Peter Mandelson, the MP for Hartlepool, the site of the planned dismantlement, had been embroiled in a battle with FoE over the obsolete vessels. He welcomed the change, saying it made "sense to have the ships dismantled in a "properly controlled" way.
Three of the ships docked in the north-east port this month; the fourth is being held offshore until the high tide of Tuesday morning. Nine more vessels, also due to be taken apart at the Able UK yard, are still in the US.
FoE prompted huge public concern over the "toxic time-bombs", insisting the ships were "extremely hazardous". Opposition politicians also warned of "an environmental disaster" and Hartlepool Borough Council condemned the vessels' arrival.
But two weeks ago The Independent on Sunday revealed that the old US navy ships hadmaterials that were less dangerous than those found on many working ships.
Yesterday, Mike Childs, FoE campaigns director, said: "Now that the boats are here we have got to find the best way of dealing with them."
But FoE will still oppose bringing the other nine ships to the UK. It insists its data is accurate and has threatened Mr Mandelson with legal action for defamation.
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