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French toxic ship ends global odyssey

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  • French ship laden with toxic substances is to arrive in UK for recycling
  • Aircraft carrier had been turned away from at least three other countries
  • Despite earlier protests, Greenpeace not opposing transfer of ship to England
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A ship laden with toxic substances is due to arrive in northeast England for recycling Sunday, ending an odyssey that has seen it turned away from at least three other countries.

The scrapping of the aircraft carrier has been hugely controversial and a major headache for France.

The scrapping of the aircraft carrier has been hugely controversial and a major headache for France.

The French Navy spent years looking for a site that would decommission the former aircraft carrier Clemenceau, now known simply as the Q790. The ship contains asbestos, which can cause cancer.

Greenpeace activists boarded the ship off the coast of Egypt in 2006 to prevent it being sent to India to be scrapped. The environmental campaign group said at the time it contained "high levels of asbestos and other hazardous materials." Two activists climbed the ship's masts and hung banners reading "Absestos carrier: stay out of India."

The group declared "victory" a month later when then-President Jacques Chirac of France recalled the ship after the country's Council of State ruled its export could violate European law, Greenpeace said.

The ship had earlier been rejected by Turkey and Greece, after the original plan to turn it into an artificial reef was scrapped for environmental reasons, the group said.

The British ship recycling company that will scrap it had to apply for special permission from the country's Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive.

But the company, Able Ship Recycling, hailed its arrival in the English city of Hartlepool as a milestone.

"The dismantling of the vessel will be the largest ship recycling project ever undertaken in Europe," the company said in a statement.

The work will take place at the company's Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre, where it will produce about 200 jobs in the economically depressed region.

Able chairman and chief executive Peter Stephenson said the contract was "crucially important... at a time when there are so many economic problems facing the world -- and especially a region such as the north-east of England."

"Recycling the Q790 will be the largest project so far handled by any European yard but, with the biggest dry dock in the world, we have the capacity to undertake the recycling of the vessel," he added.

Launched in 1957, the Clemenceau was the mainstay of the French naval fleet and sailed over a million nautical miles before being withdrawn from active service after almost four decades at sea, the company said. It will join the other three UK and four U.S. vessels also being recycled at the center, Able said.

Greenpeace is not opposing the transfer of the ship to England, but press reports suggest local activists are displeased.

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