Ship must stay in U.S., appeals court decides

August 26, 2008|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's injunction that bars a retired Navy hospital ship decaying in Baltimore's harbor from being moved overseas.

M/V Sanctuary was rotting in the Patapsco River for 18 years until it was sold at a court-ordered auction in October to Potomac Navigation Inc. The Delaware-registered company planned to tow the ship to Greece in December, but the move was delayed by costly legal wrangling with the U.S. government.

In November, the U.S. District Court in Baltimore granted the Environmental Protection Agency an injunction to prevent Sanctuary from leaving U.S. waters. The EPA also obtained a warrant to search the ship for polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are illegal to export under certain circumstances. The chemicals were routinely used years ago to fireproof materials but have since been linked to cancer, developmental changes and reproductive toxicity.

The EPA found nonliquid PCB levels that were higher than regulations allow, according to the Department of Justice.

Potomac appealed the District Court's decision.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th District found yesterday that the Toxic Substances Control Act explicitly authorizes the EPA to inspect premises where there are substances regulated by the law.

Regarding the preliminary injunction, the Court of Appeals said that "given the serious health and environmental consequences associated with PCBs, the district court did not clearly err in finding that the balance of harms tipped sharply in favor of EPA (and the public interest)."

Potomac's New York attorney, Lawrence Kahn, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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