Four US ships are currently docked in Hartlepool. We understand that the company concerned intends to submit the necessary applications for planning permission and a waste management licence for the Graythorp site for the dismantling of the vessels, which would need to be considered by the relevant authorities. In the meantime, dismantling work on the ships is prevented and they are subject to regular inspection by the authorities.
The Minister will remember that, when he gave evidence before the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during our inquiry into ghost ships, there arose the question of the point at which the legal liability for those ships would fall on the UK. In his evidence, he said that the clock was ticking under the 180-day rule, which meant that the UK would assume liability for the ships on
Can the Minister tell the House—
Order. I think that the Minister has enough to go on.
I have checked the situation under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rules and the EU rules, and the 365-day rule is the relevant one. The ships are stored safely at Hartlepool and are regularly inspected. My hon. Friend will be aware that, following a meeting of the non-governmental organisations, I have agreed to put in place an overall strategy for dealing with recycling ships in the UK. The ownership of the ships and liability rests with Able UK and MARAD—the US Maritime Administration—and the regulator is the Environment Agency, in which I have the utmost confidence. The weather window for the return of the ships is, realistically, around the end of May. However, I do not want to duck the issue. I emphasise to my hon. Friend that we should consider the best environmental option, which, in my view, is to recycle them on site. Of course, that requires the necessary legal and environmental permissions. If they cannot be recycled on site, the next best option is to recycle them in the United Kingdom or the European Union. If that cannot be done, they will have to be returned. However, if we are concerned about environmental outcomes—I hope that hon. Members are—the best environmental option is to recycle on site.