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The Otapan is finally on it’s way to Turkey to be broken up. Will the Turkish owner earn some money with it? “No, the Otapan only gave us trouble.”

If they had known beforehand what trouble buying the Otapan would cause them, they would never have bought the ship. Financially it has been a loss-maker, it has damaged the image of the company, not to mention all the stress the whole situation has caused. “We hope we can leave this horrible crisis behind us now”, says Vahit Simsek of family company Simsekler in the Turkish town of Izmir. “The Otapan has only caused us trouble.”
The Otapan left the Netherlands today and is heading for Turkey, after returning to the Netherlands in 2006 while on it’s way to Turkey. Turkey refused the ship entry because there was more asbestos on the ship than the official documents stated. “We bought the ship to break it up and sell the steel for scrap”, says Vahit Simsek, “and it happened to be in the Netherlands but that seemed to be no problem.” They reserved a space for the Otapan at the shipyard, but then the Otapan didn’t arrive. “Years ago we invested a lot in the shipyard”, says Vahit, older brother of Adem Simsek, who is in charge of the ship-division of Simsekler, but who is attending meetings in the Netherlands now and is not available to the press. Vahit: “First we only bought and sold ships, but we wanted to expand our business. We are a big family with eight brothers and five sisters, so we are always searching for new ways to make enough money for the whole family. Breaking up ships is a growing business in Turkey, so it seemed a good choice at the time. But because of this crisis with the Otapan, we have lost our motivation.”

Unpleasant phone calls

About two percent of the ships that are broken up worldwide, are broken up in Turkey, mainly in an area close to the western city of Izmir. A small percentage, but in Turkey it’s a growing industry. According to the association of Turkish marine scrap yards, in 2006 94 ships were broken up in Turkey, and last year that grew to 135. Annually around 500 million dollars circulates in the sector, and more than ten percent of all the steel that Turkey uses, is recycled from old ships. The Turkish ministry of the environment states that it’s a clean business, because it is well controlled by the authorities.
The Otapan affair, the handling of which has not yet made it into the Turkish media, has harmed the environmental image of the Simsekler family business, so says Vahit. Many lies were told about the Otapan and about Simsekler, he says full of frustration. “The Otapan was full of poison, they said, and Simsekler brought it to Turkey. They made it seem as if there were containers of poison on board, which was of course totally not the case. People in Turkey don’t know about asbestos, and they don’t know that ships are broken up carefully, without harming the workers or the environment. We had quite a bit of unpleasant phone calls.”

Nightmare

In the meantime, the most of the asbestos has been removed from the ship in the Netherlands. The remainder can only be taken out during the actual breaking up, which will start as soon as the Otapan arrives in Turkey in about three weeks. Will Simsekler make some money out of it in the end? “No, there are only losses”, says Vakit. “Just by removing the asbestos, 6 to 7 tons of steel is lost. Our shipyard has been empty for some time waiting for the Otapan – you can not easily and quickly find another ship to scrap. We had to pay our workers even though there was no work for them. And we went to the Netherlands about twenty times with one or more lawyers to negotiate a settlement. Of course we understand that the Dutch government needs to keep their costs low, but we are a company and also have to keep our head above the water.”
The Simseks’ are happy that finally the whole affair is coming to an end. The breaking up will take about two to three months. Vahit Simsek: “Then hopefully this nightmare will finally be over.”

(written for news agency ANP)

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