Court Ruling Stops Dismantling Of US Navy Ships

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - The dismantling of four former U.S. Navy ships at a dock in northern England could face delays after an environmental group won the first round of a court case this week.

The ships, part of a fleet of 13 boats scheduled to be destroyed by Able UK in the city of Hartlepool, England, have been the subject of legal challenges on both sides of the Atlantic.

Four of the boats have already made the journey to England and are in the docks at Hartlepool, while nine remain on the James River in Virginia pending the outcome of a separate U.S. legal challenge.

On Monday, Britain's High Court agreed with a case put forward by environmental group Friends of the Earth and ruled that Able doesn't have the proper permits to begin dismantling the ships, overturning a ruling by the U.K.'s Environment Agency.

"This case was more than a battle over the 'ghost ships' - it was about ensuring international laws to protect our wildlife are complied with and local people are involved in decisions that affect their environment," said Tony Juniper, the organization's executive director.

"Our job now is to prevent the United States from abdicating its environmental responsibilities by exporting the other nine ships. The four ships already in Hartlepool must be dealt with in the least environmentally damaging way."

The Environment Agency has acknowledged that it had made an error in judgement when it didn't consider the impact of the ships on a local wildlife preserve.

Environmental campaigners say the ships contain carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, asbestos, oil and dozens of other chemicals that could damage the environment and wildlife.

Another hearing is scheduled next week, when the court will examine legal issues related to Able's construction of a dry dock in Hartlepool. In the meantime, Able must reapply for a permit to dismantle the ships.

In a statement, the Environment Agency said it would await the outcome of next week's hearing and ensure that the ships are stored safely in the meantime.

Able has contended that the dismantling of the ships poses no threat to the environment and that the project will bring 200 jobs to the region. The company declined comment Tuesday.

See Previous Story:
Toxic Fleet Sets Sail to UK From US (Oct. 7, 2003)

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