EU-Recycling – 53% still to breaking beaches: Shipbreaking NGO presents annual report

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23 June 2014 - Brussels — In the year 2013, at least 1213 large commercial vessels – such as bulkers, general cargo and container ships, tankers and passenger ships – were dismantled globally. Only a very small fraction of the world’s end-of-life fleet was recycled in a clean and safe way. Not less than 645 discarded ships – 53 percent of the total number of ships scrapped – were sent for breaking on beaches in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. This still represents 71 percent of the total tonnage dismantled in the world. These end-of-life vessels contained thousands of tons of hazardous wastes which were not properly removed and disposed of in the shipbreaking countries: rather, large quantities are still dumped without the necessary precautions or are even resold, balances Executive Director Patrizia Heidegger in her foreword to NGO Shipbreaking Platform Annual Report 2013.

Due to the global economic crisis, the overcapacity of commercial ships all around the world is still huge. Moreover, certain types of vessels have become increasingly uneconomical due to changing market conditions. Scrapping is often more profitable than keeping a ship operational. Ship owners or those investing in ships often make the decision to sell ships for scrapping quickly and with the intention to gain maximum profit without taking into consideration the impacts for workers, local communities, and the environment.

Obviously, breaking ships on beaches is neither safe nor environmentally sound. The primary cutting of the vessels takes place on mudflats in the intertidal zone without the possibility to control leakages and to dredge contaminated sediments. Pollutants are washed out by the tides. Moreover, the ships are broken down manually by a workforce that is still not adequately protected from exposure to toxic fumes and dusts. The workers do not wear safety harnesses either and risk falling from great heights. Due to the impracticality of using cranes and lifting equipment next to the ship, beaching also entails the use of gravity to remove huge steel parts – a method which regularly causes severe injuries and fatal accidents. The beached ships are furthermore not directly accessible to fire fighters and medical teams in the event of accidents, fires and explosions.

The current beaching practice is prohibited in the ship-owning countries in Europe, North America and East Asia where stricter environmental laws as well as health and safety provisions are in place and enforced. Beaching is not “green” ship recycling. The Platform promotes the use of the best available techniques and calls on ship owners to take responsibility for the costs involved in the proper recycling of their end-of- life ships. In particular the Platform’s members in South Asia, believe that the shipbreaking countries cannot compromise the safety of their workers and the protection of their environment if they indeed strive for sustainable development.