Materials Recycling World – Ship recycling malpractice highlighted by environmental campaigners

(Written by Chiara Francavilla)

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26 June 2013 - An environmental campaigning group has published details of companies said to be carrying out the controversial practice of “beaching” ships, in an effort to encourage responsible recycling.

Shipbreaking Platform claims that every year more than 80% of all end-of-life ships, which it estimates to be around 800, are run ashore in developing countries such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, where unscrupulous companies exploit minimal enforcement of environmental and safety rules to recover the scrapped metal.

The group’s OFF THE BEACH! database contains those companies involved and details of ships that have been beached or dismantled on the shores of South Asian countries from 2009 to 2012, including 29 UK ship companies and ten UK-flagged vessels.

The export of EU flagged ships for dismantling is currently prohibited by the EU waste shipment regulations, as ships are considered hazardous material (see box, below).

Patrizia Heidegger, executive director of Shipbreaking Platform told MRW said the aim of the initiative was to name and shame companies and encourage a safe disposal of end-of life vessels in the shipping industry.

“We want shipping companies to understand that this is a problem,” Heidegger said. “As they are the beneficial owners of the ships they have the responsibility to ensure the proper recycling of end-of-life vessels.”

But she said some companies got around the restriction by shipping their vessels to South Asian countries without declaring the aim of the journey. Once outside European waters, the ships are sold to brokers and sold on again to dismantlers. Another way to circumvent the ban on export is changing the flags of vessels to non-European ones, a practice that is simple and inexpensive.

Shipbreaking Platform is calling for the implementation of an international agreement, the Hong Kong convention, and for tougher rules at the EU level.

The EU is due to approve new regulations requiring European ships to be recycled only in facilities that meet health and safety and environmental standards, and to be included in a European register.

Ships would also have to carry an inventory of the hazardous materials present on board, and apply for an inventory certificate, although Heidegger said the rules will apply only to EU-flagged vessels.

David Balston, director of safety and environment at the UK Chamber of Shipping told MRW that efforts should be focused on co-operating with South Asian countries as they were better equipped to deal with ship recycling.

Balston also said that achieving a sort of producer responsibility agreement in the industry is unlikely, given that ships have a long life span, up to 30 years, and they change owners frequently.

Lucinda Hall, principal consultant at Enzygo, who worked with UK recycler Swansea Dry Docks, said some of the seven ship recycling facilities in the UK would struggle to meet the proposed EU requirements.

“The industry is underfunded and facilities would need a lot of investments to be upgraded to meet the standards,” she said.

Both Heidegger and Hall maintain that given a weak regulatory environment and business reasons for having ships dismantled outside the EU, there were few incentives for ship owners to follow best practices.