Indian Express – Centre comes up with new code for ship-breaking

(Written by Adam Halliday)

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30 March 2013 - Based on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, the Union Ministry of Steel has issued a new indigenous code for ship-breaking to be followed in India.

The new code, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, does not make any reference to the Basel Convention, an international agreement ratified by India.

Last year, the Supreme Court had ruled that “authorities shall strictly comply with the norms laid down in the Basel Convention or any other subsequent provisions that may be adopted by the Central Government in aid of a clean and pollution-free maritime environment” before allowing end-of-life ships to beach for dismantling.

The SC judgment was in regard to the disputed entry of the former oil tanker Exxon Valdez at Alang-Sosiya Ship Recycling Yard (ASSRY) last year. The vessel was involved in the infamous March 1989 oil spill when an estimated 2.5 lakh barrels of oil eventually contaminated almost 26,000 sq kms of open ocean and 2,414 kms of Alaska’s shoreline.

While the SC allowed the ship to beach, its judgment led to some confusion among local authorities and traders at ASSRY, considered the world’s largest ship-recycling yard. They halted buying end-of-life ships and left several stranded off-shore for several weeks until the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests finally issued a clarification saying the 2007 SC guidelines and not Basel would be followed.

Under the more than two-decades-old Basel Convention of Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes, end-of-life ships can be classified as “waste” and their movement restricted by provisions such as “written notification by the state of export to the states of import and transit”, “a reporting system for ships destined for recycling” and prior decontamination.

Activists have in the past used the convention’s provisions to try and block such ships from entering India for dismantling.

The Steel Ministry’s new code, issued earlier this month and expected to be published in the Gazette of India soon, does not specify any mechanism for such prior notification except for the ship to notify the Indian Coast Guard or Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) once it enters Indian waters and is headed for a recycling yard.

While the Basel convention also asks for prior decontamination of hazardous wastes from onboard end-of-life ships, the new code specifies that decontamination of non-loose forms of such wastes should be done after the beaching process and disposed of properly before dismantling begins. Non-loose waste refers to materials such as asbestos and PCBs which were earlier used as insulating material in engine chambers.

Loose hazardous wastes, however, continue to be disallowed as the new code broadly follows rules drawn up after a 2007 Supreme Court ruling on ship-recycling, albeit with a few modifications and some greater detail on certain issues.

On reporting waste inventory, the new code instead refers to the International Maritime Organization’s Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009, which is still awaiting ratification.