NGO Platform – What a difference a flag makes – Why ship owners’ responsibility to ensure sustainable ship recycling needs to go beyond flag state jurisdiction


“This briefing paper raises concerns regarding new legislation meant to regulate ship recycling practices, in particular the International Maritime Organisation’s Hong Kong Convention and the European Union Ship Recycling Regulation, and argues that legislation mainly based on flag state jurisdiction will neither be able to solve the problems of substandard shipbreaking nor enforce the polluter pays principle on ship owners. The analysis of the link between flags of convenience (FOCs), in particular “end-of-life flags” and substandard shipbreaking practices shows that FOCs are likely to undermine the implementation of the polluter pays principle by making it easy for ship owners to circumvent legislation by flagging-out to a non-party or a non-compliant flag. In conclusion, the briefing paper asserts that solutions urgently needed to ensure sustainable ship recycling must go beyond flag state jurisdiction in order to close the loopholes created by the FOC system.

Currently, most ship owners circumvent existing legislation meant to protect in particular developing countries from hazardous wastes present within the structure of end-of-life vessels, and are therefore not held accountable for polluting and dangerous shipbreaking practices. Only a small number of ship-owning companies have taken voluntary measures to ensure the clean and safe recycling of their obsolete vessels. For the sake of higher profits, most ship owners sell their end oflife vessels with the help of a cash buyer to a shipbreaking yard that lacks proper infrastructure and safe working conditions. It is a choice of profits at the cost of people and the environment.

The European Union has a particular responsibility to provide solutions to the shipbreaking problem as around 40% of the worlds’ commercial fleet is owned by European companies and more than one third of the tonnage broken every year in substandard yards in South Asia was sold by European companies. The EU is thus the single largest market sending end-of-life ships for dirty and dangerous shipbreaking. Hazardous waste usually follows the path of least resistance – and backed by noncompliant FOCs, ship owners will be able to continue choosing profits at the cost of people and the environment unless other incentives are introduced to promote clean and safe recycling.”