- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — The expected export of 13 ships from the James River “ghost fleet” to a British salvage company has prompted protests from domestic scrappers and a complaint from a Texas congressman.

The Environmental Protection Agency last month agreed to allow the U.S. Maritime Administration to negotiate the sale of the obsolete, environmentally hazardous ships to a British shipyard, which would tow them across the Atlantic for disposal.

The deal would mark the largest scrapping project undertaken since at least 1994, when the United States stopped selling rusting vessels to overseas scrappers and the ships began piling up in the James River with nowhere to go.

The plan calls for a New York company, Post Remediation Partners, to dispose of 13 ships with the help of a British company, Able UK Ltd., which has a shipyard in Teesside, England.

The Maritime Administration has described the plan as the “best value bid,” offering the greatest number of ships to be scrapped at the lowest cost to taxpayers. But domestic scrappers are frustrated that such work would go to a foreign company, and they question how a British yard could compete effectively, given the high cost of towing the vessels across the ocean.

“I do not think anything’s been done fairly or in the best interest of the United States,” said Timothy Mullane, shipyard manager of Bay Bridge Enterprises, LLC, a recycling company in Chesapeake that is competing for the disposal work.

Congress has provided $31 million this year to pay for ship disposal. The Maritime Administration is under pressure to meet a congressional mandate requiring disposal of all obsolete ships in the James by Sept. 30, 2006.

Mr. Mullane, whose company has a 60-plus-acre recycling site in Chesapeake, said towing fragile, dilapidated ships full of toxic PCBs across the ocean is inherently risky.

“Some of these ships are just in horrible, horrible condition,” he said. “I can’t imagine some of these leaving this port.”

Maritime Administration spokeswoman Robyn Boerstling said the ships have completed an independent towing survey and will not be moved until they are certified by the Coast Guard.

“If it wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t be doing it,” Miss Boerstling said. “We have important safeguards in place.”

Critics also are questioning the fairness of an open-ended bidding process that they say has not treated all companies equally. In a letter to Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, Texas Democrat, said the bidding process prevents direct comparisons of cost because each proposal covers different amounts of work and numbers of ships.

“How can an objective decision be made on the best value for a job when they are comparing apples and oranges?” Mr. Ortiz wrote. “I am concerned that subjective decisions, disguised as ‘best value,’ are precluding a fair and transparent competition process for this work.”

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