(Written by Ben Messenger)
3 October 2013 – Non-Governmental Organisation, Shipbreaking Platform, which campaigns to end environmentally harmful practices at ship breaking yards in South Asia, has called on India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to halt the import of the fire damaged, ship Hansa Brandenburg.
The container ship caught fire in July and was later towed to Port-Louis in Mauritius.
According to the organisation it is suspected that the German owner of the Leonhardt & Blumberg group, which it presumes to be toxic, has sold the Hansa Brandenburgfor breaking in South Asia, most likely to India.
The NGO explained that the Mauritian authorities dealing with hazardous waste confirmed that the ship is still in Port-Louis, but could soon leave as Mauritius refused to deal with the burnt containers and cargo which, it claimed are likely to contain a substantial amount of hazardous materials such as heavy metals or PCBs.
Moreover, Shipbreaking Platform said that the vessel is suspected of carrying dangerous substances in the water used to fight the fire as well as a significant amount of fuels and oil, and that it is therefore concerned that the Hansa Brandenburg, which was not cleaned since the fire, is contaminated with hazardous substances.
Last year, another German-owned container ship, the MSC Flaminia, caught fire and was severely damaged. According to Shipbreaking Platform, the owner of the ship had to clean it in a German port and then send it for repair within the EU.
The NGO called on Leonhardt & Blumberg to make sure that toxic residues left by the fire as well as the hazardous substances in the structure of the ship are handled by a facility which is adequately equipped for the task.
The costs for such an operation must be paid by those responsible, not by the workers and the environment on a beach, the organisation asserted.
“If the ‘Hansa Brandenburg’ is sent to India, this would be another typical case of bad practice where a wealthy shipping company rids itself of its environmental and social responsibility by dumping waste in a substandard yard in South Asia – just because it is more profitable,” said Patrizia Heidegger, executive director of Shipbreaking Platform.
Flying the flag
Shipbreaking Platform claimed that the Hamburg based owner, Leonhardt & Blumberg is already known for its malpractice in dumping old ships in substandard facilities in India.
In 2012, the organisation said that the Hansa India was beached in Alang, India, followed in 2013 by the Hansa Trondheim, the Hansa Stavanger, the Hansa Pacific and the Hansa Atlantic.
This year the NGO noted that Leonhardt & Blumberg changed the flags of all its beached end-of-life vessels to Sierra Leone or Comoros before beaching – a typical sign that the owner used a cash buyer as a middleman and seeks to avoid any legal responsibility.
With about 4000 merchant ships, Germany owns the world’s biggest commercial shipping fleet.
However, according to Shipbreaking Platform, it is also one of the worst dumpers of toxic ships: in 2012, 58 German-owned ships were beached in South Asia, and another 34 have already been sent between January and June 2013. Last year, 365 end-of-life ships owned by European companies were dumped in South Asia.
Leonhardt & Blumberg is claimed to have promised the German Government that at least part of its fleet would again fly the German flag in return for tax incentives under the tonnage tax system.
However, according to Shipbreaking Platform, currently only one of the company’s ships flies a German flag. Reflagging to flags of convenience allows shipowners to circumvent stricter European laws, for instance with regards to workers’ rights or environmental protection.
Under the new European Regulation on Ship Recycling, which will enter into force early in 2014, ships flying the flag of an EU Member State can only be dismantled in a ship recycling facility approved by the European Commission in order to ensure workers’ safety and environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes.
The NGO concluded that if Leonhardt & Blumberg continue to re-flag their vessels to Sierra Leone or the Comoros before scrapping, they will deliberately avoid the new regulation.