On January 18, 2007, the crew of the MSC Napoli abandoned ship, after the vessel got into difficulties, in mid-Channel, during severe weather.
A joint decision was taken, by French and British authorities, to beach the cargo ship in Lyme Bay. (STORY)
The decision, which resulted in the oiling of hundreds of sea birds (PHOTOS) was condemned by environmentalists, who argued - to no avail - that a World Heritage site was no place to beach a damaged ship.
Last week, the MSC Napoli was refloated, only to be beached again, when hull damage proved so great that she could not be towed away.

The current thinking is that the best way of disposing of the MSC Napoli is to encourage it to break in half, by removing ballast in a manner that will cause sagging and allow tugs to flex the the ship until it is in two pieces. The stern will then remain beached, for later disposal, whilst the bow will float and can be towed away.

No-one, however, seems certain of any outcome and this, together with news of oil on a stretch of Jurassic beach and reports of more contaminated sea birds, has raised some new concerns about possible further environmental damage. Beaching ships for breaking is an accepted practice in certain parts of the world, but an unacceptable one in the eyes of environmentalists and huminatarians world wide. Recently, they have been instrumental in preventing the breaking up, in India, of two high profile vessels. The first was the former French aircraft carrier Clemenceaux, the second the famous liner, which started off life as SS France.

Clemenceaux has returned to France; her export having been deemed illegal by courts in both India and Europe, the French Government had little choice. The export of the former France, which became SS Norway and then SS Blue Lady, also contravened laws for the export of hazardous waste, but the outcome is still unresolved.

In August 2006, Star Cruises sold the SS Norway to Bridgend Shipping of Monorovia, Liberia, for scrapping. The ship was renamed SS Blue Lady and the initial intention was to break her up in Bangladesh, but the Government refused to allow her to enter, because of the amount of asbestos on board. She was then sold to Haryana Ship Demolition but, largely due to the actions of Gopal Krishna, an environmentalist and an anti-asbestos activist, the vessel still lies off the infamous Alang beach.

The SS Blue Lady is partially beached at Alang. The Supreme Court of India has ruled that the beaching was in contempt of court and is still trying to determine whether scrapping of the vessel can be carried out in Alang. The vessel is, currently, sitting with her bows on the mud at low tide, but floats at high tide. It is acknowledged that she could be taken to sea again with the help of tugs.

Ironically, there is no real reason for the debate, for the SS France is a much loved ship and there are parties, in more than one country, who have made offers that would give her latest owner, Priya Blue, a profit on her $16 million purchase price. More than one person, however, feels that the there is more than the fate of the Blue Lady at issue here; it is the fate of the entire Alang operation that is at stake.

Priya Blue has rejected all offers for the Blue Lady, for the Alang operation, where men work for next to nothing and are treated as "disposable", is highly profitable for its owners. Many observers fear that some accident will befall the Blue Lady, leaving the ship so badly damaged that she will have to be demolished where she lies. In that way, the Indian Supreme Court will not have, officially, given permission for the ship to be beached and broken up, so it will have done the right thing in the eyes of environmentalists and humanitarians, yet the future of Alang will have been ensured.

The breaking up of the MSC Napoli will be done with more concern for both the environment and the health of those that work on the ship, than breaking in Alang, but can it be done with complete safety? The MSC Napoli was built in 1991, 10 years later it underwent major structural repairs after going aground on a reef, near Singapore. Does anyone know what it is contaminated with? Perhaps not asbestos, but it is almost certain that the ship's bottom is coated with tributyl tin, and other possible contaminants are PCBs, PBBs and PDPEs, cadmium, chromium, mercury and other heavy metals and there may even be radioactive parts.

The present plan, if successful, will lessen the environmental impact, as the largest part of the vessel will be disposed of at a yard equipped to deal with pollutants.

The next article Green Passport is about a scheme that aims to minimise ship breaking pollution.