Maritime Executive – Ship Breaking: Action or Talk?

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27 June 2014 - Belgian authorities have released the Japanese owned car-carrier that has been sitting in detention at the port of Antwerp for nearly a month. After having been alerted by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a coalition of environmental, human rights and labor organizations, that the ship had been sold for scrapping in India, the Flemish Environment Ministry seized the end-of-life car carrier Global Spirit. The ship was allowed to leave the port of Antwerp for recycling in Turkey, a destination allowed under European waste law.

“We applaud Belgium for having stopped the Japanese ship from sailing to Alang, India, where the vessel would have been broken under very hazardous conditions, an export which would have been illegal under European law,” said Ingvild Jenssen, policy advisor of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking. “On the shipbreaking beaches of Alang labor rights are poorly respected and pollution laws are weak or not enforced. The conditions we see in India would never be allowed in Europe or in Japan.”

According to the European Union Waste Shipment Regulation, only if all hazardous materials, such as asbestos, residue oils and toxic paints, are removed from the Global Spirit can it be allowed to be exported to South Asia. The regulation was designed to prevent the environmental injustice caused when rich countries export their toxic wastes to impoverished countries that lack the technology and infrastructure to manage such wastes.

Jenssen says that the charterers of the Global Spirit, Höegh Autoliners, have already adopted a sustainable ship recycling policy for their ships requiring them to be broken ‘off the beach’. More and more progressive shipowners are refusing to sell their end-of-life ships to substandard beach breaking yards and the new EU Ship Recycling Regulation has set a clear standard for safer and greener practices that effectively rules out the beaching practice, she says.

However, many in the shipping industry feel the EU regulations are inappropriate for shipping. The release of the vessel was welcomed by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the global trade association for shipowners. ICS maintains that the detention was inappropriate, and that this EU Regulation was never intended for application to international shipping or to ships which are scheduled to be recycled. However, ICS is pleased that the local authorities have come to an understanding with the shipowner.

ICS also greatly welcomes the emphasis now being given by the Belgian authorities to the importance of the rapid entry into force of the IMO Hong Kong Convention on Ship Recycling and its commitment to speed up Belgium’s ratification of this important convention. ICS fully agrees with the Belgian authorities that the entry into force of the IMO convention ‘is the best guarantee and the only way forward for sustainable ship recycling’ throughout the global shipping industry.

ICS reiterates the following points, which were communicated by ICS to the Flemish Ministry of the Environment when the ship was still detained:

The EU European Waste Shipment Regulation, and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes (on which the EU Regulation is based) were never intended for application to international shipping or to ships which are scheduled to be recycled. This important point has been repeatedly recognized during discussions that have taken place since the Basel Convention was adopted.

The relevant international regime which is applicable to international shipping is the IMO Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships. While this instrument has not yet entered into force, it is fully supported by the international shipping industry. It also provides a sounder and far more relevant basis for determining whether a shipping company is meeting its responsibilities to ensure that redundant ships are indeed being recycled in a safe and environmentally sustainable manner. All IMO Member states are therefore encouraged to work towards the ratification of the IMO Hong Kong Convention as soon as possible.

The international shipping industry is fully committed to the safe and environmentally sound recycling of redundant ships. This is demonstrated by the development by the industry of Guidelines on Transitional Measures for Shipowners Selling Ships for Recycling, which sets out the measures that shipowners might reasonably undertake in order to adhere to the spirit of the IMO Hong Kong Convention in advance of its entry into force.

As of June 25, 2014, only Norway and Congo have granted accession to the convention which was adopted in 2009.