Lloyd’s List – Brussels set to bin Basel scrap ban

15 June 2011- Move to change ship recycling requirements welcomed by maritime industry

THE European Commission is putting together a proposal to exempt ships from waste shipment regulations in a move that would effectively put an end to the Basel Convention—a regime widely derided by the maritime industry as an unworkable failure. The current system has been accused of pushing owners of EU-flagged ships to export end-of-life vessels illegally to recycling facilities in countries outside the OECD.

The commission has confirmed that it is in the process of developing a new regime that would allow such tonnage to be dismantled in Asia, the main area for ship recycling. Under the proposed new system yards involved would hold certification proving high working standards and would comply with the International Maritime Organization’s Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, adopted in 2009.

“The commission would like to develop a regime that would remove ship recycling from the score of the waste shipment regulation,” Julio Garcia Burgues, head of the waste management unit of the commission’s environment directorate general, told Informa’s annual Ship Recycling conference in London today.

He said the proposal would see a regime based on the Hong Kong Convention, but may include “some more stringent conditions”, with mechanisms for environmentally-sound practices and exports only to certified facilities.

The view of the commission is this would be an “acceptable” incentive for owners to export vessels to yards with higher environmental standards, he said.

Lloyd’s Register ship recycling lead specialist Robin Townsend said, on behalf of the owners he works with, it was “good news to hear”, while other audience members said the proposal would be “far more practical”.

Circumventing current regulation at present makes the process of selling a vessel for demolition to recyclers in the Indian Subcontinent far more complex than the proposed suggestion.

“It is clear ships contain many substances that are considered hazardous waste and, as a result, fall under the scope of waste regulation and cannot be legally sold to non-OECDcountries,” Mr Burgues said.

“The only option to legally sell a ship for recycling to a facility outside the OECD would be pre-cleaning it of hazardous waste, but it seems this option is not realistic or viable, as pre-cleaning would mean the ship would not be fit for navigation. This option is not economical and technically would be very difficult.”

With 90% of EU-flagged ships sold for recycling in 2009 ending up at breakers in countries outside of the OECD, there was a clear indication that the export ban under the Basel Convention was not being enforced. “It is systematically being violated,”Mr Burgues said.

Over 40% of the EU-flagged vessels sold for demolition in 2009 were bought by Indian breakers, around 13% to Bangladesh buyers, 22% to China, 12% to Pakistan and around just 6% to Turkey, his presentation showed.

EU capacity was minor by comparison to these major ship recycling centres and was used for small ships that do not fall under the requirements of the Basel Convention.

“One of the main reasons the export ban is being violated is there are not enough ship recycling facilities in EU countries and owners with end-of-life ships do not have any option but to export to facilities outside theOECD,” Mr Burgues said.

“Against this background, we have two conclusions: first, the ban of exports of end-of-life ships to non-OECD countries has been a failure; second, it is doubtful whether the export ban is enforceable at present.”

Even if there was an increase in OECD scrapping capacity, he did not think it would be enough to meet the actual demand of EU owners selling vessels for demolition. The current system acted, in a way, as an incentive for owners to recycle vessels in substandard conditions.

The Hong Kong Convention was welcomed by the commission, as it was an attempt to bring competence and enforcement and was an important step to phasing out environmentally harmful facilities, he said. And the commission urged member states to ratify the Hong Kong Convention. The EU had been assessing the relationship between the Hong Kong Convention and the Basel Convention and in April published the finding of its studies.

“The conclusion was clear that the Hong Kong Convention provides a level of control and enforcement equivalent to Basel and is better suited to the specifications of the shipping world,” Mr Burgues said.

“The Hong Kong Convention is emerging as the cornerstone for the EU strategy on ship recycling. Unfortunately that is not the end of the story, as it will take some time—some years—before the convention comes into force.” The biggest question facing the EU was whether to maintain the Basel Convention export ban until the Hong Kong Convention was in force, Mr Burgues said.

“The commission believes this would not be a productive option and it would be counteractive, not only because it is not working, but because the problem may get worse with the economic recession,” he said.

“If we don’t send out the right incentives, it might mean current unsafe facilities may continue operating. It is imperative EU ships are recycled in an environmentally sound manner.”

Mr Burgues could give no accurate timeline of when the finalised proposal would be published, but an optimistic view was it could be as early as 2012.

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