Ukraine port admits asbestos-laden ocean liner

November 03, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Officials in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol decided to allow the asbestos-laden SS United States into port yesterday.

The navy yard there will refurbish the sleek but decrepit ship in a job that will bring millions of badly needed dollars into the economy but that has sparked protests over its environmental hazards.

The 41-year-old ocean liner, once the flagship of the U.S. trans-Atlan

tic fleet, had been kept out of port for several days while officials debated what to do.

Owned now by Turkish and U.S. interests, the United States had been at a mooring in Turkey for more than a year, but no yard there would take on the work.

Alexei Shmatenko, the deputy director of the Sergo Ordzhonikidze Nautical Yards in Sevastopol, said the job of refurbishing the ship was nothing "extraordinary." Plenty of Ukrainian and Russian ships, he said, were similarly built with asbestos applied to bulkheads.

Workers at the yard will wear protective masks, he said.

When asked what would happen to the asbestos that is removed from the ship, he said it might well be sold for re-use as a construction material. Asbestos roofing and sheetrock are still widely used in Ukraine.

Konstantin Buzadzhi, an official with the environmental group Greenpeace-Ukraine, said he was disappointed that the ship had been allowed in.

He said the work was emblematic of a much larger problem: The rich nations of the West are dumping their toxic problems on the poverty-stricken republics of the former Soviet Union.

The refurbishment of the United States is expected to cost its owners, Marmara Marine Inc., $10 million, although no contract has been signed. The same work in the United States would cost at least 10 times that much.

But in Ukraine, the renovation of the world's fastest ocean liner was a temptation too great to resist.

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