The fleet of rusting US navy ships condemned as a “toxic ghost fleet” by much of the national press has been welcomed by a local paper in Teesside where they are due to be dismantled.
The Middlesbrough-based Evening Gazette claimed a world exclusive when it carried the first pictures of the lead ship of the controversial fleet as it came into view off the Teesside coast on the morning of 12 November.
And editor Steve Dyson said he plans to continue campaigning for all 13 of the Second World War era ships to be recycled at Hartlepool.
He said: “Weeks ago we launched the campaign ‘Let the Boats Come in’ because on Teesside we are good at doing this sort of work. “They are no more polluted than any other ships so let’s just get on with the job and show the world.”
The toxic fleet row has been rumbling on for more than a month since the first ship set off from the US.
The ships contain asbestos and other pollutants and environmentalists say that they should be dismantled in the US rather than towed across the Atlantic.
But Dyson argues that the 400 jobs over two years provided by the £13m contract will give a vital boost to the Teesside economy.
On 7 November` the paper led with the story of a local unemployed labourer whose Christmas has been ruined because protests have delayed him starting a job on the project.
Dyson admits that taking such a strong stand was a gamble – on 4 November, Hartlepool Council voted unanimously to ask the Government to refuse the ships entry to Teesside.
But he believes it has paid off, with sales figures up and a positive response on the letters page.
Hartlepool MP Peter Mandelson also recently came on board to support the Gazette campaign.
He said: “It’s a way of really engaging the reader, not just reporting the news but playing an active part in shaping what’s happening.”
The Hartlepool Mail has adopted a different approach to the story and decided not to take a firm editorial line pro or anti the ships.
Editor Paul Napier said: “We’ve been reporting everything and letting our readers decide for themselves. We’ve been telling it straight and making the point that we don’t think the people of Hartlepool have been well served by scaremongering stories in the national media.
“A lot people in Hartlepool are deeply concerned about these ships. I think they are probably wrong in having that concern, but it is a dangerous thing to say the ships are definitely safe.”
By Dominic Ponsford