MAC: Mines and Communities

Ship Loaded With Toxic Ash Sinks off Turkish Coast

Published by MAC on 2004-09-07

Ship Loaded With Toxic Ash Sinks off Turkish Coast

Debates about climate change have tended to divert attention from what - for many communities - is the most damaging immediate consequence of burning coal - that cocktail of toxic and radioactive wastes called "fly ash". Dumped day by day in ponds outside power stations and smelters, it often contaminates local waterways or, during the dry season, blows into the lungs of local animals and people.

In Europe, where such "disposal" is banned, the detritus may end up in cement, bricks and in road-fill. Or - as demonstrated by the recent dramatic event in the Mediterranean - it can be shifted from port to port by companies like Lafarge - the world's biggest cement producer - until it sinks into the sea while governments argue over who's responsible.

Ship Loaded With Toxic Ash Sinks off Turkish Coast

Environmental News Service (ENS)

September 7, 2004

Iskenderun, Turkey - A ship holding a cargo of toxic fly ash from Spain for more than four years, sank Monday off Turkey's southeast Mediterranean coast. The vessel, MV Ulla, had been anchored near the port of Iskenderun since 2000 while authorities from the two countries sorted out what to do about the hazardous cargo.

Greenpeace in protest activists ankaraImages broadcast by CNN Turk show the vessel rolled over on its starboard side with smoke billowing from its bow.

The St. Vincent-flagged MV Ulla is owned by Turkish shipping line Mavi Deniz.

Greenpeace Mediterranean says the cargo of fly ash was imported illegally and activists have staged a number of demonstrations over the years to draw attention to the toxic material. Fly ash is a byproduct of coal combustion for power generation.

Tolga Temuge, who works on Greenpeace's toxic chemicals campaign, said at a 2000 demonstration at the Spanish Embassy in Turkey that "This ship will dump the waste in the Mediterranean Sea. Is that what Spain wants?

In 2002, Greenpeace Mediterranean warned that the ship was in danger of sinking "because the vessel is in poor condition."

Activist with Greenpeace Mediterranean protests toxics aboard ships in Turkey. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace Mediterranean)

Banu Dokmecibasi, Greenpeace toxics campaigner in Istanbul, said if the barrels of fly ash do break open, the contents could cause environmental damage, but said it is too early to tell whether any of the toxic material has been released.

Although the trade in hazardous waste is banned under the international Basel Convention as well as Turkish national legislation, Greenpeace says the toxic fly ash aboard the Ulla demonstrates how the European Union is guilty of illegal toxic waste dumping in Turkey.

In March 2000 the Turkish Ministry for Environment was informed that the MV Ulla, carrying Spanish waste, had entered Isdemir port in the industrial town of Iskenderun, carrying fly ash on board.

The sampling analyses of the waste, conducted by METU-the Middle East Technical University showed high levels of chromium VI that Turkish legislation lists as a hazardous substance that must be banned entry into the country.

The Ministry of Environment stopped and sealed the ship at the harbor in line with existing hazardous waste legislation.

Official Spanish documents record that 3,488 metric tons of toxic fly ash were loaded onto the MV Ulla on December 9, 1999, destined for Algeria, Greenpeace Mediterranean states.

Through the Spanish Ministry for Environment, Greenpeace discovered that the waste exported was fly ash from the burning of coal in three power plants in the north of Spain.

The toxic waste was to be sent to the Spanish company S.A. P/C De Dragados in Algeria. Dragados intended to use the toxic fly ash to build a dam in Algeria, Greenpeace explains.

The cement company, Asland Catalunya Y. del Mediterraneo acted as intermediary by buying the ashes to sell to Dragados.

"The ship mysteriously ended up in Turkey after the toxic cargo was rejected in Algeria. Dragados claimed that the cargo was damaged as a result of bad loading in Spain," Greenpeace says.

The Turkish Ministry of Environment sent a letter to the Basel Secretariat and the Spanish authorities on May 17, 2000 informing them that the cargo is of Spanish origin, testing classified it as hazardous, and demanded that it be shipped back to Spain.

In October 2001, the letter sent to Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the Spanish government stated that the Spanish company, Lafarge-Asland, was fined around 50,000 euros for illegal waste transport and irresponsibility. The Spanish government also obliged the company to prepare an action plan for the return and disposal of the waste.

Dokmecibasi explains that the Spanish Embassy sent a letter to the Turkish Foreign Ministry in January 2002, written by Juan Aristegui, deputy head of mission, saying, "Spain is ready to take the ash to Spain provided that other pending issues are settled in Turkey."

But, he said, the matter is still before the Turkish courts.

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