‘Where are the jobs?’ – Ghost ships saga rolls on 10 years after first erupting in Hartlepool

The ghost ships in Hartlepool
The ghost ships in Hartlepool
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THE GHOST ships saga shows no signs of ending 10 years after it first erupted in Hartlepool – with campaigners slamming recycling bosses for failing to deliver their jobs promise.

Anti-ships campaigners are still bitter that the jobs which were promised never fully materialised and also claim the arrival of the ships had an environmental impact on the town.

But the company which brought the ships to town say they had to move on to another branch of work when the ghost ships industry never fully materialised in town.

They now hope to create hundreds of fresh jobs in areas such as oil rig work.

Ten years ago today, the former US Navy reserve vessel the Caloosahatchee arrived in Hartlepool, the first of four initial ships to be dismantled by town firm Able UK.

Able had hoped to bring in another nine ships soon and eventually dismantle 167 of the vessels.

By 2008, Able hoped to create more than 1,000 jobs with plans for the 800ft French aircraft carrier Clemenceau to be scrapped in the town.

But campaigners against the ghost ships argued over the environmental effects on Hartlepool, claiming the ships were filled with hazardous material.

Five years of legal and local authority debate followed before Able UK was finally granted a waste management licence in 2008, the permission it needed to dismantle the vessels.

But the wrangling meant any hopes of more ghost ships coming to town were effectively diminished, and Able moved on to different work.

Able UK group development director Neil Etherington, said the number of people working at Able during the reclamation of the ships was about 130 to 140 but he added: “The whole point is that it did not all happen. It was the smaller contract for reasons that we are all aware of.

“The ship reclamation potential effectively disappeared but since June 2009, Able Seaton Port has been heavily involved with the maintenance of oil rigs working in the North Sea.

“We have seen almost 20 of these coming in and out of the port for significant works which has been undertaken by the Teesside supply chain and provided new business opportunities for local companies.”

He said that, by 2011, there were nearly 1,000 people working at Seaton Port which he said was “almost back to the halcyon days”.

He said that level of employment was “a combination of companies with almost 1,000 people working there on various projects that were involved with recycling and significant upgrading on the rigs.”

The future is just as rosy, he said.

Able had “a fairly busy programme” of work for 2014, as well as “one or two other interesting opportunities” which could come to fruition.

Mr Etherington said: ”We have moved forward. We are not a company to dwell and keep looking at what might have been but when we do look back it is extremely frustrating. It is the impact that I would contend, a very small number of people had on a project that would have benefited many Hartlepool people.”

But he said the projects in the pipeline for next year could potentially create hundreds of jobs.

Reflecting on the ghost ships saga, Mr Etherington said: “I still think that the business people and the vast majority of people know that things should have been different.”

Jean Kennedy, a founding member of the Friends of Hartlepool group which fought for the ships not to come, said: “I feel very aggrieved about what happened to our little town.

“Seaton was the jewel in our crown and to take it and destroy it over the years, and now they want to rebuild it. It should never have been undone in the first place.”

Jean added: “The decision to allow the ghost ships to come to Hartlepool was a big injustice to our town. We have been done down and we have been done to death.

“A big disservice has been done to Hartlepool. The town has not benefited from anything that Able has done.”

She claimed the ships which did arrive were hazardous. “The USA didnt want them and they were oozing with hazardous substances.”

She added: “They didn’t bring any of the jobs that were promised.”