The Economic Times – EC proposal to legalise ship exports to Asia faces opposition

15 October 2012 - The recent proposal of the European Commission (EC) to legalise export of hazardous end-of-life ships to developing countries is attracting increasing opposition from far and wide.

While Indian shipbreakers have expressed their strong reservations and opposition to the proposed regulations, environmental groups across the world are getting more vocal denouncing it. Recently, they wrote to the Brussels-based Environment attaches of all 27 Member States of the European Union (EU) against going ahead with the legislation.

“This practice has been forbidden in Europe since January of 1997. By unilaterally seeking to exempt most ships from the EU Waste Shipment regulation , the Commission would break with the EU law that implements the international treaty known as the Basel Convention and its Amendment which bans hazardous waste exports to the world’s poorest countries, says NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

“The proposal is both profoundly immoral and illegal,” said Roberto Ferrigno of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “And yet it does not appear that the Commission understands the gravity of this action. This proposal will render European governments powerless in preventing exports of asbestos and PCB laden ships from being sent to developing countries and putting vulnerable workers at risk in contravention of our own treaty obligations . We are calling on the EU, which has the capacity to recycle ships safely and cleanly, to respect its laws and create good shipyard jobs at home.”

Renouncing the proposal , Iron Steel Scrap & Shipbreakers’ Association of India (ISSAI) wrote to the Commission as well as to Indian authorities in shipping and steel ministries etc that ‘India should strongly oppose the proposed EU Regulations on export of ships for recycling…’ “Our permanent stand is that all hazardous waste which are not required for the final voyage should be removed before sending ships for recycling as we cannot accept dumping of hazardous waste in the country. Instead of making amendment to allow ships to be exported for recycling by removing hazardous materials not required for final voyage, EU is only making a show by introducing this article but the same loophole persists,” the association wrote in its reply.

“It is seen that EU accepts the fact that, at present, most of the trade of ships for recycling is illegal under the provisions of Regulation No.1013/2006″. We wonder why those who have flouted the regulation have not been penalized.

“The solution lies in the amendment of the regulation and its strict implementation by EU nations on its citizens. In their own admission, there is a loop hole in regulation 1013/2006 by which either ships were sold to cash buyers , registered in tax haven countries and then routed to ship recycling countries or sold under the pretext of trading purpose and then diverted to ship recycling countries. Once the ship leaves EU waters, they have no control over such ships. So, there was a need for EU to plug this loop hole in regulation 1013 and bring their citizens/ship owners to operate under the said regulation , rather than bringing in this new regulation,” it wrote.

The Commission has justified their proposal by claiming that the EU and developed countries lack adequate ship recycling capacity and that, in any case, there is no way to prevent ships from simply reflagging their ships to circumvent national laws.

Environmental groups assert that the capacity studies of the Commission are flawed and further, that the Commission has failed to look into shipowner /producer responsibility schemes which would create funds for proper, safe and environmentally friendly recycling operations in Europe – saving both jobs and the environment .

Each year, approximately 800 ocean ships reach the end of their services and are broken down to recover primarily steel. Yet, only a fraction is handled in a safe, sustainable manner. According to NGO Shipbreaking Platform, about 70% of all ships are simply run ashore on tidal beaches in developing countries such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, often ignoring the Basel Convention obligations, where unscrupulous companies exploit minimal enforcement of environmental and safety rules to maximize profits.

The Indian body has underlined the fact that “instead of improving the implementation and monitoring of their regulation , they have proposed the new regulation not to curb the loop holes but to give freedom for non compliance of the present regulation to ship owners.

The European Environment Council is scheduled to debate the proposal on October 25.