IHS Maritime – Environmental group offers EU anti-beaching defence

(Written by Girija Shettar)

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1 December 2014 - A European environmental agency has weighed into the confusion over an interpretation of the EU ship recycling regulations.

The regulation’s Article 13 has caused uproar among south Asia’s beach-based ship recyclers and their stakeholders. The article requires “built structures” and “impermeable floors with drainage systems”. This is understood by breakers to require the construction of expensive, complex structures on the breaking beaches.

But, speaking to IHS Maritime, OVAM, the Flemish Public Waste Agency (Openbare Vlaamse Afvalstoffenmaatschappij), said a built structure “can” refer to “roads and access ways needed to operate heavy machinery… It does not mean dry docks.”

Impermeable flooring, said OVAM, “refers to those places where hazardous waste is being stored and possibly segregated/treated”, as well as the place where “secondary cutting” takes place. It said that during dismantling, “the canoe of the ship can act as an impermeable floor”.

The EU consistently denies that its regulation bans beaching. Dr Petros Varelidis, Greek environmental attaché to the EU and an expert involved in the writing of the regulation, recently told IHS Maritime that it would be counterproductive to ban beaching. “So the regulation does not ban beaching,” he said. However, he offered no interpretation of Article 13, explaining that it is up to the recyclers to propose ideas to the European Commission for evaluation.

Dr Nikos Mikelis, the non-executive director of cash buyer GMS and an expert in ship breaking, is in no doubt about what the regulation entails. “It is clear that the [European] Commission intends to interpret the regulation as banning the beaching of European flagged ships,” he wrote in an open-source article in November in which he also claimed that a desire to create jobs at European breaking facilities was behind the move.

But, Mikelis reasoned, “Europe’s capacity for recycling large ships is virtually non-existent, with few European yards focusing primarily on the recycling of small, domestic trading and government-owned ships. Even then, most ships in the above categories tend to be recycled in Turkey’s Aliaga breaking yards.”

He further argued that the EU is the world’s second largest exporter of ferrous scrap, after the United States. The majority of this goes to Turkey (63%). A regional shipbreaking industry for large ships would find its ferrous scrap competing with other European ferrous scrap, and it would all have to be transported to countries that, mostly, already recycle ships. He called this “nonsense” economically and environmentally as well, as most of the parts from scrapped ships would end up in landfill compared with scrap in south Asia, where all parts are sold and reused.

The European regulation will be applied when the output of approved ship recycling facilities constitutes not less than 2.5M ldt, or on 31 December 2018.