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Ex-cruise ship sails into India controversy

A retired cruise ship arrived Friday in Indian waters, where efforts to scrap the rusty vessel are being held up over concerns that the asbestos on board will be disposed of improperly.
Former cruise liner S. S. Norway is berthed 73 nautical miles off Alang
The Blue Lady, previously known as the SS France and SS Norway, is seen anchored off the Indian coast on Friday. Amit Dave / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The famed ocean liner SS France arrived Friday in Indian waters, where efforts to scrap the rusty vessel are being held up over concerns that the toxic asbestos on board will be disposed of improperly.

The ship — now renamed the Blue Lady — was towed from Malaysia to the Pipavav Port on India's southwest coast, maritime officials said. It will remain in the port pending a Supreme Court committee's review of whether the 46,000 ton ship can be dismantled safely.

If approved, it will be brought to the ship-breaking yard of Alang, about 40 miles north of Pipavav, where an estimated 900 tons of asbestos will be removed before workers dismantle the luxury liner.

"We will cooperate with authorities to perform all the formalities as required by the court," said Rajiv Reniwal, whose company, Haryana Shipbreakers, has purchased the ship. "Once we get the necessary clearance, we will take it to Alang shipbreaking yard for beaching."

Greenpeace and other environmental groups went to court earlier this month in a failed bid to keep the ship out of India, claiming the asbestos and other toxic materials will sicken workers and taint the coastal environment.

It was earlier turned away from Bangladesh because of environmental concerns.

Similar protests in February led French authorities to cancel the dismantling of the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau in India after revelations that it also was loaded with asbestos and other substances now banned in the West.

Ship-breaking is a major business in Asia, supplying scrap steel and other materials to a region hungry for industrial materials. But critics say its workers, often poor migrants from the countryside, face death, dismemberment or slow poisoning from toxins, gas explosions and falling hunks of steel.

Considered one of the last great trans-Atlantic ocean liners, the SS France was launched in 1962. During its illustrious career, the ship carried the likes of artist Salvador Dali, his pet ocelot and the Mona Lisa to an exhibition in the United States.

It was renamed the SS Norway in 1979 and become a popular cruise ship in the Caribbean. But a boiler explosion in 2003 spelled the end of its luxury liner career, forcing its last owner, Star Cruises, to sell it for scrap — much to the dismay of supporters, who have called for it to be preserved as a floating museum or hotel.