Tradewinds – We must pull together on a global system of responsible scrapping

(Written by Terry Macalister)

25 July 2014 – The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships is a necessity, and all responsible voices in our industry should argue strongly for its ratification — as quickly as possible

The giant hulk of the Costa Concordia was set to make its final voyage this week and finally remove from the Italian coastline one of the maritime world’s least glorious symbols.

The 114,500-gt, 2006-built cruiseship has been dragged off the sea bottom off the island of Giglio and will be towed to Genoa.

One good thing that might come out of this is the decision to dismantle the vessel locally in an environmentally sensitive way.

Genoa’s Voltri terminal boasts of being the first facility approved under the European Ship Recycling Regulation, which came into force six months ago.

The Costa Concordia is a special case but the dismantling begins as the global breaking industry is under the spotlight as never before.

Preparations for the final voyage of the stricken cruiseship were being made just as some of the industry’s greatest critics met in Brussels.

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a coalition of 19 human rights, labour rights and environment campaign groups, was holding its annual meeting in the Belgian capital.

A new fire has also been lit under the demolition debate by the row surrounding the planned scrapping in India of the 47,500-gt car carrier Global Spirit (built 1987) and the latest five fatalities at a beachside shipbreaking plot in Alang, India.

The latter deaths on the tanker Perin seemed to reinforce the argument of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform that recyling vessels for scrap on beaches is not safe, never mind environmentally sound.

Does anyone actually have accurate global figures on how many workers lose their lives in this sector annually?

The shipping industry has largely and, perhaps sometimes grudgingly, accepted the need for change.

The traditional beach breaking, without large cranes or specialist equipment, has a long history and has provided a cheap and easy way for shipowners to sell on redundant tonnage.

Equally, it has provided much needed employment in many rural areas in developing countries where there have been few work alternatives.

But in the 21st century it is time to introduce a global system of demolition that is both economically sustainable, safe and “green”.

That system is of course promised by the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships (Hong Kong Convention).

The convention was adopted five years ago and is still a long way from being actually brought into force.

Although five countries initially signed the convention, only two — Norway and Congo — had effectively ratified it by the start of last month.

The international agreement needs at least 15 states plus those flag states holding at least 40% of the world’s tonnage to come into force internationally. On top of this there is a third condition under which “the combined maximum annual ship-recycling volume of those states must, during the preceding 10 years, constitute not less than 3% of their combined merchant shipping tonnage”.

Nikos Mikelis, a former International Maritime Organisation (IMO) man who is now a consultant to scrap specialists such as Global Marketing Systems (GMS), says this last condition of the convention makes it pretty much impossible to implement without the involvement of India.

At the beginning of this month, France, one of the five original signatories, finally moved to ratification.

Belgium, scene of the stand-off over the Global Spirit, is expected to follow suit, as is Turkey.

Japan and China are also said to be moving slowly but surely down the slipway towards ratification.

In the meantime, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform continues to kick up a stink.

The row around the Global Spirit shows the pressure local politicians are under. The Belgian government prevented the vessel from going to India by using European Commission (EU) rules on waste shipments.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) argues that these EC rules were never meant to cover ship disposal. It may be right.

At the same time, one could argue that the NGO Shipbreaking Platform is an unrepresentative body with undue influence in the European Union (EU).And that ultimately the Hong Kong Convention cannot guarantee that accidents in Indian yards will not continue.

But when all is said and done, shipping has historically undertaken shipbreaking “on the cheap” but at a time when perhaps less was known about the human and environmental damage involved.

The current legislative situation covering recycling is still unclear, as the Global Spirit case showed.

This is the worst of all worlds for the maritime industry, which needs certainty and order.

To achieve that, all responsible shipowners and industry associations must argue for the Hong Kong Convention to be ratified — and fast