FRENCH environmentalists are making a last-ditch bid to prevent the asbestos-laden French aircraft carrier the Clemenceau from heading to the North-East, The Northern Echo has learnt.

AE2D, an environmental association based in the port of Brest, where the Clemenceau is moored, is challenging the French authorities over the decision to transfer the former Naval carrier to Able UK for scrapping.

It hopes that an interim court order can be made to prevent the ship from leaving French waters.

Earlier this month, the Clemenceau was granted the final permission it needs to leave France by an interministerial committee for the exportation of war materials.

Jean Kennedy, of campaign group the Friends of Hartlepool, which failed with its legal challenge over the Clemenceau, said the group had been in touch with those involved in protests in France.

She said: “The Clemenceau should never come anywhere near Hartlepool. God willing, it will not come.”

Able, however, remains confident of the Clemenceau’s arrival in the UK, possibly later this month.

Work is thought to have already begun on installing a towing rig to bring the Clemenceau – also known as Q790 – to Teesside. PD Ports, which operates Teesport, has begun dredging a channel so that the 27,000 tonne carrier can safely be towed into Able’s facility at Graythorp.

Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which granted an exemption so Able can import the asbestos contaminated material within the ship, has said a series of inspections will take place following its arrival.

Pam Waldron, head of operations for the HSE in the North-East and Yorkshire, said: “The HSE has not yet received notification as to when the Clemenceau is due to arrive.

When Able do notify us, we will decide on a plan of inspections, beginning on arrival and the start of works, and sample inspections throughout its process.

“The HSE decision to grant the certificate of exemption to import the asbestos was taken after a six-month-long process that included examining documents provided by Able and an independent third party, external and internal consultation.

We also took into account Able’s capability and capacity, and its performance on working on the former US naval ships currently at the TERRC facility.”

Able UK beat competition from shipyards in France, Italy and Belgium to scrap the 50-year-old Clemenceau.