Tradewinds – EU beaching ban ‘could scupper global standards’

(Written by Geoff Garfield)

8 May 2013 - A former head of shiprecycling at the IMO insists proposed tougher regulations on European scrapping could kill off the Hong Kong Convention and its aims at improving standards at scrap yards on the Indian subcontinent

Nikos Mikelis, the former shiprecycling chief at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), warns that worldwide attempts to raise vessel-recycling standards could soon be scuppered by a European ban on beaching.

Mikelis fears that the still-to-be-ratified Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships is in jeopardy if a sequence of meetings beginning this week in Brussels sees Europe introduce tougher, unilateral measures.

“The Hong Kong Convention without Europe is useless because it was developed through the efforts primarily of European countries, as well as Norway and Japan,” Mikelis told TradeWinds. “These were the main drivers.”

So-called “trilogues”, discussions involving the European Parliament and European Council, with the European Commission (EC) effectively as mediator, were scheduled for this week, as well as next Friday and 27 May.

The European Parliament has already voted in favour of measures proposed by rapporteur and Swedish Green Party politician Carl Schlyter that include banning the beaching of ships for demolition and fines for European-flag owners who flout the proposed regulation.

If such a ban enters into force, these owners would be forced to use only European Union (EU)-approved recycling yards, vastly restricting their choice as the huge majority of ships globally currently end their lives on beaches in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Mikelis, whose new roles include advising cash buyer GMS on responsible shiprecycling, says he is concerned that those Indian subcontinent countries will consider themselves effectively “banned” by Europe and consequently would see no need to ratify the Hong Kong Convention.

“If that happens, then the convention is dead,” said Mikelis.

No longer would it be possible to satisfy the entry into force conditions that requires ratification by at least one of the two major scrapping nations in south Asia.

‘Cuts out the key nations’

“Also, the spirit of the convention would not be met,” Mikelis said. “It was never designed to control standards in China and Turkey [which do not practise beaching]. It was designed to raise standards in the sub-continent looking 20 years ahead from now. The stupid thing is you cut out the very people you want to upgrade.”

He accuses anti-beaching advocates of lacking “joined-up thinking”, while pedalling slogans.

Mikelis says the Swedish Green Party has close relations with anti-beaching lobbyists Greenpeace and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform — the latter he accuses of wanting “continuous argument and chaos”.

As for the European Parliament, it had not “taken the trouble” to investigate how shipping works and why the Basel Convention on the transboundary movement of hazardous waste had not worked for ships.

Is “castrating” the Hong Kong Convention a clever move?” asked Mikelis.

Schlyter drafted the European Parliament’s environment committee report on shiprecycling, which also proposed a levy on ships using EU ports. But the Strasbourg assembly rejected that element last month. It was aimed at funding the safe scrapping of vessels.

Schlyter argues that most ships are being scrapped illegally in contravention of Basel. He claims a lot of misinformation was circulated by the maritime sector that resulted in the fund plan being defeated by a narrow 299 votes to 292, with 21 abstensions.

There is no indication that the European Council has so far veered from its position of accepting beaching. It is said to support the entry into force of the Hong Kong Convention, although concerns linger within the EC about the time that could take and the bulge of ships now heading for beaches. The EC is prepared to see vessels demolished in non-OECD countries, provided facilities are authorised by Europe.

“I would be gutted if the Hong Kong Convention sits and gathers dust,” concluded Mikelis.

“I know the thing works and it works in a way that means least pain for all parties. It brings improvements where it is needed and it is gradual.”