Europolitics – Too many old ships still end up in South Asia

(Written by Isabelle Smets)

18 January 2012

Shipbreaking Platform, a coalition that brings together NGOs fighting against the dismantling of ships in conditions that do not respect workers’ rights or environmental rules, has published a list of European companies which sent old ships “to the infamous scrap beaches of South Asia” in 2011.

The coalition publishes this list every year in order to raise awareness of the poor environmental and working conditions that surround this practise. The 2011 list includes companies from 20 European countries, which have sold their old ships to breaking yards in South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). These countries are Greece (100 ships), Norway (24), the United Kingdom (13), the Netherlands (12), Germany (11), Italy (nine), Cyprus and Switzerland (five), Bulgaria, Denmark and Romania (four), Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Spain and Sweden (three), Belgium, Finland, Ireland and Slovenia (one).

“The vast majority of European shipping companies continue to avoid the costs of proper disposal by selling their ships to South Asian breaking yards known for their lack of enforcement of environmental and labour laws, exposing some of the poorest communities to extremely dangerous working conditions and severe pollution,” says the coalition, which also highlights the frequent use of flags of convenience – including flags from Panama, Liberia and the Bahamas – which allow unscrupulous ship-owners to avoid taxation, security regulations and other social requirements concerning their workers.

The coalition is calling on the European Commission to take action against the vast transfer of toxic waste, which takes place every year between the EU and developing countries. The Commission has already recognised the problem by publishing, in 2008, an ‘EU strategy for better ship dismantling’ (COM(2008)767). Every year, between 400,000 and 1.3 million tonnes of toxic products contained within old boats are exported from the EU to South Asia. EU legislation on the transfer of waste, which forbids the exportation of dangerous waste from the EU to countries which are not members of the OECD, is in this case insufficiently implemented.

“As nearly all ships contain considerable quantities of hazardous materials like oils and oil sludge, asbestos, glass wool, PCB, TBT, heavy metals in paints and others, those that go for scrapping have to be regarded as hazardous waste,” the Commission said, in 2008. It will present proposals aimed at ensuring better application of the regulation in the first half of this year.