Overdue federal action on shipbreaking mess Executive ban: Administration moves to halt U.S. collusion with unsafe practices overseas.


THE CLINTON administration this week moved to temporarily ban the overseas sales of U.S. ships for dismantling. Better late than never.

The executive memo, issued by Vice President Al Gore, means the U.S. Navy and the Maritime Administration will end their complicity with the environmentally unsound and dangerous offshore shipbreaking industry, at least for the next year. The memo, which has the force of law, is a victory for the environment and, therefore, all of us.

But it especially benefits the poorly paid and untrained workers in the wretched shipyards of South Asia described in a series of articles last year by Sun reporters Gary Cohn and Will Englund.

At one shipbreaking center alone -- in Alang, India -- 35,000 men live and work under unspeakable conditions.

The Pulitzer-Prize winning series also documented how some private contractors at ports across the United States were mishandling the scrapping of Navy ships, and ignoring the laws of this country that protect workers and the environment.

All of this attracted the attention of Maryland Senators Barbara -- A. Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, who -- joined by others -- fought for a ban on sending our decrepit ships to countries where worker and environmental safety standards do not meet our own.

When the defense and transportation departments initially balked at needed reform, Senator Mikulski sought to include language in the annual funding for the Environmental Protection Agency that prohibited exporting ships for scrapping to nations that did not abide by EPA standards.

During the one-year ban, Mr. Gore said he was "confident that our nation's ports can provide the facilities and labor needed while observing appropriate safeguards to protect our waters, our workers and port communities."

A pilot program for just such a domestic effort is included in a defense bill now in a House-Senate conference committee. It nTC deserves to survive, and emerge as part of the committee's recommended final version.

The Navy and Maritime Administration have an estimated 180 vessels waiting to be dismantled.

The shift in the administration's attitude toward overseas shipbreaking was overdue. It may cost more to demolish decrepit ships here, but it was unworthy of this country and what it stands for that we would ship that hazardous work to the Third World with no thought to environmental and worker safety there.

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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