Port Industry – Getting your hands dirty

Courtesy of Port Industry, Yellow & Finch Publishers






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(Written by Anoeshka Maaskant)

2 June 2014 - While Asian countries, including China, have implemented incentives for responsible shipbreaking, EU countries lag behind. Europe is home to many of the worst offenders, although notable exceptions include Grieg and Höegh Autoliners, CSL and Boskalis. In December 2013, the new EU regulation on ship recycling entered into force – good reason to hope for better environmental, safety and labour rights in the future. But unless an economic incentive is added, the registration of European ships under flags of convenience will allow ship owners to sail around the new regulation by reflagging and continue dumping their toxic ships in substandard facilities, noted the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

The objective of the new EU regulation is to reduce the negative impacts linked to the recycling of EU-flagged ships, especially in South Asia, without creating unneccessary economic burdens. Notwithstanding the new regulations, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform – a global coalition of organisations seeking to prevent dirty and dangerous shipbreaking practices worldwide – is concerned about the continued dumping of toxic ships in substandard facilities.

“More ship owners have opted for cleaner and safer solutions in 2013 compared to previous years, this is good news for the environment and the workers and also those ship recycling yards globally that have invested in better practices,” says Patrizia Heidegger, Executive Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “Still, the majority of ship owners uphold their dirty practices and European owners are amongst the worst.”

The complete list of ships that were dismantled around the world in 2013 shows that there was an enormous amount of 1,213 large ocean-going vessels scrapped, of which 645 vessels were sold to substandard beaching facilities in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Of these, roughly 40 percent were EU-owned.

World’s most dangerous job

European ship owners tend to close their eyes to the poor conditions at the (South Asian) shipbreaking beaches. The end-of-life vessels contain toxic materials such as asbestos, heavy metals, PCBs and organic waste within their structures. Vulnerable migrant workers – many of them children – break apart massive and toxic ships by hand, often without shoes, gloves, hard hats or masks to protect their lungs from asbestos and poisonous fumes. No wonder the International labour Organisations (ILO) considers shipbreaking on beaches to be among the world’s most dangerous jobs. Still European ship owners sold hundreds of large commercial vessels for breaking last year, many ending up on a South Asian beach. These ships were mostly broken in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India on tidal beaches whose soft sands cannot support crucial safety measures such as heavy lifting or emergency response equipment and which allow pollution to seep directly into the coastal zone environment. All of this while shipbreaking can be done in a safe and clean way with proper technologies and infrastructure, and enforced regulations.

Most ship owners choose to sell their ships for significantly greater profit to substandard yards operating in countries without adequate resources to provide safeguards and infrastructure to manage the dangerous business. It is also important to note that not all ships sold to modern ship recycling facilities were necessarily demolished in a safe and environmentally sound way, commented the Shipbreaking Platform. Beyond technology, a hazardous industry requires expertise and training, tight controls by the authorities transparency and traceability of waste as well as independent trade unions.

From bad to worse

According to the Shipbreaking Platform, Greece remains the worst European toxic ship dumper, closely followed by Germany. Owners in these countries disposed of a record-high 80 percent of their end-of-life ships in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and include well-known companies such as Danaos and Euroseas (Greece), and Conti, Hapag-Lloyd and Leonhardt & Blumberg (Germany). Comparatively, Japanese owners sent 43 percent of their ships to South Asia, whilst the vast majority of Chinese owners opted for nationally available ship recycling capacity – Chinese ship operators will receive a cash subsidy of 750 Yuan (EUR 91) per gross ton for scrapping an older ship.

Other European companies that have recurrently topped the lists of worst dumpers include Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), with nine ships dumped in India in 2013, and the Monaco-based Sammy Ofer Group, with thirteen ships dumped in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

False pretenses

The new EU ship recycling regulation will ban the breaking of ships registered under the flag of an EU Member State in beaching yards and demand proper recycling in facilities that meet the requirements set out in the Regulation. However, the Regulation runs the risk of becoming a paper tiger: more than two thirds of the European ships dismantled in 2013 did not sail under the flag of an EU Member State when heading for a dismantling yard and would therefore not have been covered by the new Regulation.

In addition to the ships already sailing under the non-European flags during operational use, another 55 ships were flagged out from European registries just before scrapping outside the EU. Flags of convenience such as Comoros, Tuvalu, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Togo and Sierra Leone, that are less favoured during operational use, were excessively popular flags for the end-of-life vessels broken on beaches in 2013.

“Reflagging has always been a convenient way for ship owners to circumvent rules enforced by the flag states,” says Ms Heidegger. “The Shipbreaking Platform and its members have been calling upon the EU to introduce an economic incentive to promote safe and clean ship recycling, because a regulation based only on the voluntary registration under a European flag will not have the promised impact.”

Ambitious policies

Meanwhile, many responsible European ship owners have developed their own ship recycling policies.

“Whereas the number of dismantled ships remained nearly as high as in 2012, the number of beached ships dropped from 850 to 645 in 2013, representing a reduction of 24 percent from the previous year”, mentioned Ms Heidegger.

This was only possible with thanks to some best practice examples, such as those seen for the Danish Maersk Group. Maerst was amongst the first to have an ambitious ship recycling policy and has so far lived up to it for those ships registered under its name. However, Maersk sold off three ships to Greek owner Diana Shipping and chartered the vessels back: all three were beached in 2013.

The sale of old ships to a new owner while continuing to be the operator is a common way of avoiding responsibility at end of life, and it weakens Maersk’s efforts to be a global leader in green ship recycling, says the Shipbreaking Patform. The best examples are Norwegian ship owners Grieg and Höegh Autoliners, who have proven to be serious about their environmental policies and have not beached vessels in 2013. Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) and Royal Dutch Boskalis went one step further and had their ships recycled within OECD countries only. Dutch company Van Oord, active in the dredging and offshore industry, has recently stated they will no longer beach any of their ships.