U.S. bases’ toxic waste returns to Yokohama port

Kyodo

A freighter carrying a shipment of toxic waste from U.S. military facilities in Japan returned to Yokohama port Tuesday after Canada and the United States refused it permission to unload its cargo.

Some 150 members of Greenpeace and other civic groups gathered at Hommoku Pier to protest against the return of the 65,140-ton Wan He, a Panamanian-registered cargo ship.

The vessel was carrying about 100 tons of garbage laden with cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls from used transformers and other U.S. military waste.

The cargo ship left Yokohama port March 23, but headed back to Japan after the U.S. Defense Department gave up any hope of being able to unload the cargo in North American ports earlier this month.

The shipment was originally to be unloaded in Vancouver, but local authorities there refused the cargo entry and sent it on to Seattle. The ship then made a quick stop in Seattle, where it was greeted by protesters, prompting the U.S. Defense Department to decide against unloading the cargo there.

Foreign Minister Yohei Kono told reporters Tuesday that he has requested that the U.S. “not dispose (of the garbage) in Japan.”

The U.S. has promised not to do so and will send it on to an unidentified foreign destination within one month, Kono told a news conference.

The city of Yokohama, which is in charge of the port, allowed the Wan He to dock on condition the shipment would be immediately transferred out of the port.

Upon the ship’s arrival, workers began unloading the 760 containers, including 14 filled with the PCB-laden garbage, but the work was interrupted after four Greenpeace activists boarded the ship and tried to cover the 14 containers with banners.

The banners read, “PCB — This is U.S. Garbage. USA — Toxic Criminal.”

The unloading ended at around 6:30 p.m. after U.S. Embassy officials persuaded the four protesters to leave the ship.

The shipment was then taken to the U.S. military’s Yokohama North Dock near Hommoku Pier. Officials from the Yokohama municipal government asked the shipping agent in charge of the containers to inspect them, saying they contained substances designated as dangerous under Japanese law, but the agent refused, on grounds that the contents were confidential.