Monday, January 16, 2006

El-ahrairah's Chronicles of The French Navy

(Posted from an e-mail at his request -- CH)

The continuing saga of the “Ship O’ Death”

This is the story of a certain French warship that nobody wants. Back in 1997, the French military decommissioned the 33,000-ton aircraft carrier Clemenceau. After sitting around rusting in Toulon, France, it was finally sold for scrap in 2003 to a Spanish company. In late October 2003, it was to be towed from Toulon to the Atlantic port of Gijon in northern Spain for demolition. However, instead of sailing for the Straits of Gibraltar, it was seen heading southeast down the coast of Italy towards Turkey.

The reason for this sudden change in direction was that the Clemenceau was just chock-full of asbestos and before it could be broken up, all the asbestos in the carrier needed to be removed. Since there were certain rules and regulations in Europe governing the removal of asbestos, the company that bought the Clemenceau wanted to skirt these rules and have the work done in Turkey where environmental regulations are much looser. When the French military got wind of this, they cancelled the contract and the Clemenceau was returned to France.

This is where the Great El-ahrairah joins the story. I had just returned from Baghdad and was finishing up a long overdue vacation in Italy before proceeding on my way to my next assignment in Germany. My sainted wife at the time had been taking helicopter flying lessons and wanted me to meet her instructors. While we were there, we were told that there was a photographer from Rome who wanted to be taken on a search for the Clemenceau which was though to be off the coast of Sicily. The flight school commander asked us if we wanted to go for along for a ride and we said “sure”. So, the four of us (the pilot, my sainted wife, the photographer and myself) climbed into the helicopter and went off searching for the Clemenceau. We figured that it wasn’t too far off the Sicilian coast and sure enough, after about a half-hour of searching, we found the Clemenceau off Augusta, Sicily being towed by a tug heading for Turkey. We circled the ship numerous times and hovered overhead while the photographer took numerous photos to document the physical state of the ship and then left. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my brand-spanking new Sony Cybershot so I don’t have any photos of the event. Poop!

Fast forward to 2006. The Clemenceau is again in the news. The French have signed a contract with the Alang ship breaking yard, in the state of Gujarat on the west coast of India this time to take the “ship of death” off its hands and dispose of it. Unfortunately, this has not gone smoothly since India is now refusing to take the ship due to hazardous waste concerns. Greenpeace has gotten involved by boarding the ship and initially, Egypt refused to allow the ship to pass thru the Suez canal. However, Egypt has now given the “green light” to the French and the Clemenceau can now pass thru the Suez Canal.

The main sticking point is the French insistence that the Clemenceau is only carrying 45 tons of asbestos whereas the firm that partially helped to decontaminate the ship before setting sail, there are between 500 to 1000 tons of the deadly substance on-board.

The Great El-ahrairah doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. Say that there is actually 1000 tons of the substance on-board. 1000 tons is a large quantity, but when compared to the overall weight of the ship, the amount of asbestos on-board is only 3% of the ship’s overall weight. If the amount is 500 tons, the amount is only 1.5% of the ship’s overall weight. If the amount is 45 tons like the French government maintains, the amount is only 0.14% of the ship’s overall weight. It doesn’t seem like much to get worked up about to me.

Why don’t the French just sink the ship off the coast of France? That’s what the US Navy did last year. The US Navy sunk the USS America off the coast of Virginia in May 2005 to test out just how much damage an aircraft carrier could take before sinking. The last time that the US Navy lost an aircraft carrier was during World War II and they wanted to see what affect today’s weapons would have on a ship that was designed using lessons learned during war over 60 years ago. The French could have done the same thing and avoided all the controversy. They probably could have even sold the hulk to the US Navy and let the military have some “live fire” fun ‘n’ games. I’ll bet money that they could have made off the pay-per-view broadcast and DVDs would have more than covered the cost. They could have even sold advertising space on the boat. “This pay-per-view demonstration of your tax dollars at work destroying a “surrendered” French warship is brought to you by Budweiser. To the US military, for all you do, this Bud’s for you”.


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