Thursday, August 07, 2008


Norway's Fisheries minister Helga Pedersen denied lying but admitted sort of not telling the truth about the hazards posed by a ship (pictured here) which foundered on the rocks off a tiny Norwegian town more than a decade ago.

The Minister first denied any knowledge of the fact that the wreck contained materials harmful to the environment, and repeated this in an interview on Monday. She kinda, sorta changed her story, however, after being confronted by a reporter with a letter from the local mayor which clearly indicated otherwise written in 2005.

The old Russian cruiser, Murmansk, was being towed to India to be taken apart, when it broke loose from its tow and ended up on the rocks near the tiny hamlet of Sørvær in Finnmark County (see map) in 1994.

In the years since then Norwegian authorities have said that the ship was no danger to the surrounding environment. Therefore it has been left there for slowly disintegration.

Not everyone was thrilled with the national government's plan. Since 1994 local authorities have demanded that the wreck be removed from its shores - to no avail.

However, one year ago a Norwegian waste management company tested the substance of some equipment from the ship, and it turned out to be radioactive. According to the newspaper Finnmarken there were also indications that the wreck contained lead and PCB in such large quantities that it could only be characterised as hazardous waste.

That information became public knowledge this past week in an article in the Aftenposten.

Since that article about the radioactive materials on the Murmansk was published in the Aftenposten , there has been massive national media attention in Norway on the environmental hazard the ship seems to represent.

While all this was happening the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority and the Norwegian Coastal Administration announced no radiation was discovered in preliminary tests carried out on the wreck. However, at the time of the announcement they admitted large parts of the ship and its cargo remained unchecked, since it was impossible to enter the submerged lower parts of the wreck at that time due to tides. The final reports from the testing done won't be available for several weeks.

Government authorities considered the radiation reported present in the Aftenposten article a "minor event".

Some took exception to that assessment.

Olaf Braastad of the environmental pressure group Bellona told the media the situation was an environmental scandal. "Not only is the cruiser, which lies in the middle of a tourist paradise, full of environmentally hazardous chemicals, it turns out that it contains radioactive material as well."

Environmental activists, local politicians and all others affected by the ships presence on the coast of Finnmark, have again demanded that the minister of fisheries and coastal affairs, Helga Pedersen, takes action to remove the wreckage. However, nothing is yet decided about what will happen with the remains of the “Murmansk”.

Norwegian authorities now say they will attempt to re-contact Russian officials to try and better determine just exactly was/is on board the ship.

Residents of the small fishing village of Sørvær located near the wreck have long been troubled by the fact that there have been a lot of cases of cancer there.

I wonder why?

The following is from Aftenposten (Norway).

Fisheries minister knew about hazards

Fisheries minister Helga Pedersen admits that she knew the wreck of the Murmansk might contain dangerous chemicals, but she rejects claims that she lied.

Labour Party rising star Helga Pedersen is in trouble over the way she has handled pollution fears in Finnmark.

Previously the Labour Party minister has said that she has had no knowledge of any toxic materials aboard the wrecked cruiser. She repeated this claim when she was interviewed on Monday. When the journalist confronted her with a letter from the local Mayor sent in 2005, warning of possible dangerous chemicals, she admitted that she recognized the letter.

Odd-Egil Simonsen, the former Labour Party mayor, accuses Pedersen of lying when she said she was unaware of any danger to the environment from the wreck.

After daily newspaper Aftenposten wrote about radioactive equipment which had been removed from the ship last Friday, demands to remove the wreck have increased.

"In his original letter Simonsen referred to PCB's and toxic flame retarding organic bromines. There have been suspicions about the existence of chemicals like this dating back to 2004, but nothing had been confirmed. Claims that there were radioactive materials on board were entirely new to me," says Pedersen.

On Tuesday Pedersen meets the present mayor of Hasvik, Eva Husby who also represents the Labour Party. She has two demands: that the wreck has to be thoroughly inspected to see what materials are on board, and that the wreck must be removed, according to news bureau NTB.

Pedersen says that the contents of the ship have to be checked first. She promises that the local inhabitants can be quite sure that there will be no dangerous pollution from the wreck in future.

No comments: