The Le Clemenceau Controversy: Business vs. Safety

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Case Details:

Case Code : BECG062
Case Length : 8 Pages
Period : 1997-2006
Pub. Date : 2006
Teaching Note :Not Available
Organization : -
Industry : Ship-breaking
Countries : France, India

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"The Clemenceau became the icon of toxic trade abuse between the developed world and developing countries. With President Chirac's decision, it now becomes a sign of how Governments, when pressurized by public opinion, can take corrective action. This incident should set the precedent not just for ship-breaking, but for all toxic trade." 1

- Martin Besieux, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner, in 2006.

"This (recall of ship) is very unfortunate for not only ship-breakers and workers but also the ancillary industry, re-rolling mills and foundries which used to thrive on Alang yard." 2

- Mukesh Patel, owner of the Shree Ram Group, in 2006.

Le Clemenceau Called Back

On February 15, 2006, the French President, Jacques Chirac (Chirac), ordered Le Clemenceau, the decommissioned warship that was en route to India to be dismantled, to return to France. Chirac's decision was greeted with jubilation by environmental activists, who hailed it as evidence of the effectiveness of their campaign against the asbestos-laden warship being brought to India.

Le Clemenceau, which entered service in 1961 and once the pride of the French fleet, was retired from service by the French government in 1997. Generally a sailing vessel has a service life of approximately 25 years, after which it is considered unsafe and dismantled.

Since 1997, Le Clemenceau had remained anchored off the French coast, as the French authorities could not find a buyer to purchase and dismantle the carrier.

The presence of huge quantities of toxic material, especially asbestos, on board the ship was one of the primary reasons why many nations refused to allow it into their territory to be dismantled.

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It was reported that Turkey (in October 2003) and Greece (in November 2003) had turned down proposals to purchase and scrap the ship due to the huge quantities of asbestos3 and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)4 present in the vessel.

In 2004, the Ship Decommissioning Industry Corporation (SDIC), a French decommissioning firm, struck a deal with Shree Ram Vessels and Scrap Pvt. Ltd. (Shree Ram), a ship-breaking company based in India, to dismantle Le Clemenceau. The value of the deal was estimated at 100,000 euros.

The ship was to be brought to a ship-breaking yard located in Alang, Gujarat, one of the largest ship dismantling centers in the world.

But environmentalists were concerned that there was a massive quantity of toxic asbestos on board the ship and that it would pose a serious threat to the health of the port workers employed in the dismantling process and also to the surrounding aquatic life.

The Le Clemenceau Controversy: Business vs. Safety - Next Page>>

1] "Toxic ship decision praised,", February 20, 2006.

2] Kushal Jeena, "Analysis: Despair as Clemenceau returns," StoryID=20060220-055916-3078r, February 20, 2006.

3] Asbestos is a fibrous mineral, mined from metamorphic deposits. As it is resistant to fire, heat, and chemicals, it is mixed with cement, woven into cloth fabrics, and used in fireproofing material. However, the fine asbestos fiber particles, when inhaled, can cause serious respiratory ailments and lung cancer. (Source: wiki/Asbestos)

4] PCBs are organic compounds which have wide applications in heat transfer fluids, lubricating oils, and as additives in pesticides, paints, adhesives, and plastics. Exposure to high PCBs levels can cause skin rashes and chloroacne, a condition where the skin shows acne like eruptions. PCBs are also associated with causing liver cancer. (Source:


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