An independent tribunal has ruled that the scuttling of a former navy ship to create an artificial reef off the Australian coast can go ahead despite objections from environmentalists.  Earlier this year activists north of Sydney won an injunction to prevent the sinking of HMAS Adelaide because of fears toxic paint and other materials could harm marine life.  A civil appeals committee has ruled the frigate can be sunk if it is thoroughly decontaminated.  

HMAS Adelaide was to have been scuttled in March, 1.5 kilometers off Avoca Beach north of Sydney in New South Wales, to create an artificial diving site.

The sinking was postponed when environmentalists took their case to an administrative appeals tribunal.    They told the independent panel that toxic chemicals onboard the ship, including lead paint and wiring, would damage the environment.

The tribunal has now decided to allow the project to go ahead on the condition that potentially hazardous materials are removed before the former navy frigate is sent to the sea bed.   

The committee, which acts as an arbiter in civil disputes, has issued a list of conditions that must be met by the state government department that plans to sink the warship off Australia's heavily populated eastern seaboard.  

Ben Smith, from the "No Ship Action Group," says the tribunal's decision is a partial victory, although he'd prefer the vessel to be recycled. "If it had gone to the bottom on the 27th of March with all those toxic chemicals onboard, it would have been polluting our bay for generations to come.  Our main aim is to have these ships recycled.  4,000 tons of scrap metal can go a long way," he said.

The New South Wales government says the ship poses a "negligible risk" to marine life as well as the health of swimmers and surfers.

A new date for the scuttling of HMAS Adelaide has yet to be finalized.  The migration patterns of whales will be taken into account before a final decision is made.

Five decommissioned warships have already been scuttled to create sites for divers around Australia.   When the Adelaide eventually goes the same way, it will be laden with explosives before it disappears into the Pacific Ocean.

HMAS Adelaide was taken out of service in 2008 and donated by the military to the New South Wales government.  The ship was deployed during the first Gulf war in the early 1990s and more recently during Australia's peacekeeping operations in East Timor.