US Warships (Disposal)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd April 2004.

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Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South 11:30 am, 22nd April 2004

If she will make a statement on responsibility for the US ghost ships in the UK.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

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 19 May. He also told the Committee that he would seek clarification with the EU as to whether the new 365-day regulations would come in before the weather window opened. Finally, he assured us that when the weather window opened, the ships would be returned.

Can the Minister tell the House—

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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.