(Written by Isabelle Smets)
5 February 2013 - The non-governmental organisation Shipbreaking Platform calculates that 365 European-owned ships containing toxic materials like asbestos were sent to the beaches of South Asia for scrapping in 2012. This record figure marks a 75% increase compared with the 210 European-owned ships sent for breaking to India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in 2011. “Despite the possibility of proper disposal in Europe or other developed countries, the vast majority of European shipping companies continue to profit by having their ships broken cheaply and dangerously on the beaches of South Asia,” explained Patrizia Heidegger, executive director of Shipbreaking Platform. The first concerned are Greek shipowners, who sent 167 ships to South Asia, nearly half of all the ships beached in this part of the world by European shipowners in 2012. They are followed by shipowners from Germany (48 ships), the UK (30), Norway (23), Cyprus (13), Bulgaria (8), Denmark (6) and the Netherlands (5). Shipbreaking Platform’s list shows that most of these ships flew flags of convenience (Panama, Liberia, Bahamas, etc) for their last journey.
For Heidegger, “the European Union must adopt mechanisms that will prevent European shipowners from exporting toxic ships for breaking in developing countries and instead recycle them according to the health, safety and environmental laws and standards of their own countries”. The European Commission presented a draft regulation along these lines last year that is currently working its way through the legislative process – COM(2012)118. The NGO is working with the European Parliament to introduce a financial mechanism that would permit shipowners to internalise the costs of recycling and disposing of dangerous waste at sites that meet environmental standards. The idea is to set up a fund financed by fees to be paid by all ships using EU ports. The fund would pay a premium for recycling carried out in environmentally sound installations. Rapporteur Carl Schlyter (Greens-EFA, Sweden) hopes to see the Committee on the Environment (ENVI) adopt this suggestion in February.
The draft regulation will write into EU law the Hong Kong Convention, adopted in 2009 under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), but not expected to enter into force for at least another five years. It imposes on EU-flagged ships certain of the requirements laid down in the convention, including: drawing up of an inventory of hazardous materials, the obligation to recycle ships in safe and environmentally sound installations and the application of general requirements to ships prior to recycling. The Commission goes further by adding stricter environmental provisions to the regulation: it sets requirements for ship recycling installations and draws up a European list of approved ship recycling installations.