Otapan precedent

Otapan is indeed a success almost like Le Clemenceau and it sets a precedent too unlike SS Norway (Blue Lady) where Germany's role left a lot to be desired because it connived at the dismantling of the Le Clemenceau precedent.

The Otapan (IMO: 6508561, Port of Registry: Coatzacoalcos, Mexico) is a tanker, which became well-known in Holland in the period between 1999 and 2006 when it was chained up in Amsterdam because she contained asbestos. In August 2006 the ship even gained international fame when it left for Turkey for demolition, but the Turkish authorities refused to allow the ship because the Dutch authorities had registered the ship to have a lower amount of asbestos than was really on board. After this the vessel returned to Amsterdam again.

The Otapan is a 168 metres long, 26 metres wide chemical tanker especially built for the transportating of melted sulfur. The vessel contained 5 tanks with a total capacity of 400,000 cubic feet which kept the sulfur fluid at a temperatur of 145 degrees Celsius. She was built in 1965 by Verolme Shipyard, Holland as the Harry C. Webb. The Otapan arrived at the Waalhaven, Rotterdam where the onboard asbestos was to be removed.

The Dutch State Property Department exported the toxic vessel to Turkey to cut down on disposal costs after the original owner, Navimin, went bankrupt. The Dutch notification to Turkey, required under the EU Waste Shipment Regulation, only listed 1,000 kg of asbestos was on board the ship. No other toxins were mentioned in the official notice. Later, the Dutch Environment Minister admitted on Dutch radio that as much as 54,000 kg of asbestos is on board the Otopan. He also admitted however that no proper inventory exists, and acknowledged the Dutch responsibility to provide such an inventory.

The controversial chemical tanker Otapan was berthed in the port of Amsterdam since 1999 left for scrapping in Turkey. After nearly seven years berthed in the port of Amsterdam, the Otapan, a chemical tanker still containing lethal brown asbestos, was set to be unceremoniously towed from the Dutch port to be scrapped, perhaps significantly, in a non-European Union country, Turkey. The MS Otapan contains large amounts of highly toxic materials, including an estimated 6 tonnes of asbestos plus TBT, sulphur cakes, heavy metals and very likely PCBs.

The Dutch government was been very keen to make a stand about "green" scrapping, arresting the chemical tanker Sandrien, which has ironically spent many years berthed next to the Otapan. The Otapan found itself embroiled in controversy when its naïve crew were commanded by the master to rip tonnes of asbestos out of the ship. When around 3,000 refuse sacks were spotted on the deck, the implications were clear. Amsterdam, the capital of one of the most densely-populated countries in the world, had a real health hazard at the heart of the city.

After Mexican firm Compania Naviera Minera de Golfo (Navimin), the former owner of the Otapan, ran into financial difficulties, the Dutch state also found itself the owner of the ship.

The Dutch government was one of the very few that entered into the spirit of the Basel Ban with gusto. The Sandrien was detained under the Basel Convention ban on exporting hazardous waste because of fears that it was to be beached in Alang.
Otapan, considered more potentially lethal by industry insiders has been berthed at Amsterdam Ship Repair for an even longer period than the Sandrien — since September 1999. Then owned by Navimin, the Otapan hit the headlines when its unfortunate crew started ripping lethal brown asbestos out of the ship in 2001. Navimin apparently wanted to repair the chemical tanker but because the insulating material — mainly asbestos —was in poor condition, it had to be replaced.

Apparently, after receiving quotations from specialist cleaning companies, the owner decided to have it removed by the crew in order to save money.

With around 3,000 bags or 26 tonnes found on deck, the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM) ordered them to stop.

After the exterior had been cleaned by VROM, the vessel was immediately sealed and because of the local health risk the Dutch government had little choice but to pay to have it cleaned up. The vessel was handed back to its owners and has been sealed ever since, with little known about how much asbestos remains.

According to a ministry statement prepared for Lloyd's List, the owner took no action until 2004, when, partly on the initiative of the Mexican embassy in the Netherlands, talks began between the Dutch government and Navimin.

The Netherlands proposed giving the owners financial support to tow the Otapan to
Mexico or a similar destination, since it would be far less expensive to scrap it there than in the Netherlands. The owners' initial response was enthusiastic but later they fell silent and nothing more was heard from them. Meanwhile, Navimin had been the subject of a judicial investigation to see whether it had violated the Asbestos Decree in 2001.

A district court gave a judgment in 2005 and Navimin was found guilty of contravening environmental legislation. The ship was declared forfeit to the state of the Netherlands. If the state ended up with a positive balance it should be credited to Navimin. This judgment made it more complicated to find a solution for this thorn in the Dutch government's side.

The State Property Department had now become the Otapan's owner on the state's behalf.
In what appears to be a familiar story with these problem ships, in 2005 Navimin, too, had run into serious financial problems so the Otapan was the least of its worries.
In 2005, Basilisk stepped forward. Basilisk, according to the Dutch government, reschedules debts of owners of movable and immovable property on behalf of mortgage lenders. It has taken over the banks' claim and became the mortgagee/owner of the Otapan in late 2005. Consultation with the state advocate as to who is the real owner has never yielded a clear answer. So “to avoid getting embroiled in a protracted legal battle, it was decided to seek a practical solution and to continue the negotiations between the Dutch government and Basilisk”.

The State Property Department joined in, especially since established case law requires the government to take account of the rights of a mortgagee. This means that options other than supporting Basilisk to find a final destination for the vessel are no longer being considered, the ministry stressed.

The Netherlands then had several meetings with Basilisk. An investigation last year showed that the ship was completely incapable of sailing under its own steam so a decision was made to scrap the vessel. The government stated that “given the exorbitant cost of doing so in the Netherlands, a suitable alternative location was sought” — although for the Sandrien, the government had managed to find a solution in the Netherlands.

The Otapan's owners, Basilisk of Mexico and the State Property Department on behalf of the State of the Netherlands, chose one of the shipyards in Analya, near Izmir in Turkey.

Basilisk had put all its efforts into this solution, the statement stressed, and during the negotiations the “VROM inspectorate adopted the same position as it did towards the original owner and had not modified the offer”.

On July 28, 2006 the Otapan departed to Turkey. On August 16, 2006, it reached Turkey.
The NGOs had raised alarms against the export of the MS Otapan last July 28, 2006 shortly after the vessel left the Port of Amsterdam-Noord, highlighting that Turkey lacks the appropriate expertise and the right facilities for testing and managing hazardous waste, such as PCBs, in an environmentally sound manner as required under the Basel Convention and its Technical Guidelines for ship dismantling.

The newly formed Turkish civil society coalition, Initiative Against Hazardous Shipbreaking in Turkey (Tehlikeli Gemi Sökümünü Önleme Girisimi) and the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, a coalition of human rights, environmental and public health groups, are demanded that the Dutch Government take back the toxin-laden ship MS Otapan, following a decision by Turkey on 24 August 2006 to refuse entry of the vessel, which was exported there from Amsterdam for breaking up.

The NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, has joined with Turkish NGOs to applaud the decision of the Turkish Minister of Environment, Osman Pepe, and demand that the ship - which is legally owned by the government of the Netherlands - be exported back to Amsterdam for "detoxification", a move that would exactly mirror the case of the French aircraft carrier Le Clemenceau.

The civil society groups highlighted that the Dutch government has contravened international law banning the transboundary movements of hazardous waste, as set out in the Basel Convention and EU Waste Shipment Regulations – both of which were strongly supported by the Dutch administration when they were introduced. The Dutch Environment Minister, Pieter van Geel also admitted that the Dutch government negligently provided the wrong information to Turkey on the real quantity of asbestos in the ship and failed to properly quantify the other toxins on board.

"Turkey's official rejection of 'the Dutch Clemenceau' is a vindication for the dock and ship workers, the fisher folk, and the communities in Aliaga - the group which will be harmed by the toxins born by the Otapan, had it been dismantled in Turkey," said Arif Ali Cangi of the Turkish Initiative. "It is not acceptable for the Dutch to pass its toxic burden to the people and environment of Turkey, particularly when Turkey can not properly manage these types of wastes."

Thousands of end-of-life ships from the global fleet, military and commercial, containing thousands of tonnes of asbestos, PCBs, lead, and other hazardous substances await dismantling in the next few years. There are only a handful of nations, mostly in the developing South, such as India and Bangladesh that host major shipbreaking facilities. Recently, there has been a growing clamour from these countries against the export of toxins into their territory. Last March the government of Bangladesh rejected the import of the SS Norway (Blue Lady), a vessel bearing as much as 1,200 tonnes of asbestos, invoking its right under the Basel Convention to protect the health of its people and environment. The Turkish rejection of the Otapan is yet another case in the growing call for an end to toxic waste export and exploitation.

It is the duty of the ship owner and exporting state to fully inventory and characterize the quantity of hazardous wastes on board as well as to assure environmentally sound management of all wastes prior to export. Under the Basel Technical Guidelines for ship dismantling, the exporter is also obligated to pre-clean the vessel before export. Civil society groups uncovered a report revealing that an estimated 60 tonnes of brut asbestos were still onboard. They also criticized the Dutch Government for not warning the Turkish authorities or any other party of the widespread, severe contamination of the ship by asbestos, creating a serious danger to anyone visiting the ship unprepared. The misrepresentation of the amount of toxic wastes, as well as the false assurances of environmentally sound management violates the Basel Convention, and constituted a criminal offence.

Meanwhile, a report dated 8 March 2008 noted that owner of Otapan has been taken to court. The Dutch government has started court proceedings against the Turkish Simsekler Group, owner of the controversial chemical tanker the Otapan.

A summons will be issued to the Turkish owner for a court hearing on April 9 in The Hague, Lloyd's List was told by a Ministry of Environment spokesman.

The 22,328 dwt tanker was totally cleaned of all asbestos and other pollutants in the summer of last year and the government claims that Aliaga-based Simsekler must now pay some of the berthing and insurance costs incurred since the vessel was fully cleaned up.

The Ministry of Environment spokesman said that the chemical tanker had also been placed under arrest to prevent the owner from taking it.

Adam Simsek, director of the Turkish group, said he was not aware of any court action and that he was still negotiating with the Dutch Government.

The Dutch Government wants Mr Simsek to share part of the €400,000-€500,000 ($611,000-$764,000) costs that have arisen since June but Mr Simsek said he was not willing to pay, adding, "it is not my fault". The former owner of the ship should pay, he said.

Mr Simsek said that he had no idea how long negotiations with the government would take, but he still wants to bring "our big ship" back to Turkey.

Otapan originally hit the headlines when the crew started to remove asbestos from the ship in 2001 when it was in Amsterdam. Around 3,000 bags of lethal brown asbestos had been removed by the crew before the authorities moved in and sealed the vessel. At the time, the tanker was owned by Compania Naviera Minera de Golfo (Navimin).

Otapan had been in Amsterdam for repairs since 1999. Separately, a court case is ongoing against another former owner, Mexican firm Basilisk, which acquired the vessel in 2005.

Here, the government wants to try and retrieve some of the estimated €4.5m costs that were incurred when the vessel was initially cleaned and towed to Turkey.


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