Main Locations: around Shanghai along the Yangtze River; Zhoushan Island; Xinhui along the Pearl River; Dalian
N°. Yards: around 60 companies (not all of which have an import license)
N°. Workers: N/A
Recycling methods: quay-side/slip ways, floating docks and dry docks
The Chinese ship recycling yards are located in three different areas of the country. The two main ship recycling clusters are found along the Pearl River in Xinhui and around Shanghai (along the Yangtze River and on Zhoushan Island). Also Dalian in the north of China hosts a ship recycling facility.
Several Chinese yards that have the capacity to recycle a substantial amount of large vessels alongside piers and in docks are currently out of business, in part due to low steel prices. The Chinese government had a subsidy scheme in place to boost domestic scrapping and building of Chinese-owned and flagged vessels, but the scheme recently expired. As of 1 January 2019, China has also closed the market for recycling foreign flagged ships. This decision comes on the back of China’s efforts to crack down on pollution and waste producing industries in the country and follows a ban on the import of a large number of hazardous wastes, including plastics.
Shipbreaking practices in China first came under the radar of environmental organisations in the late 1990s. Shipbreaking yards had been active and had grown in China since the early 1980s and by the mid-1990s, around half of the world’s obsolete tonnage was broken in China every year. During a fact-finding mission to China in 1998, Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network (BAN), member of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, found that workers only wore minimal personal protection equipment such as towels to protect their lungs from toxic fumes. Workers were not protected when removing asbestos, which was also found lying around in the yards. Moreover, the researchers found that explosions and fires regularly injured workers. The Chinese government soon decided to introduce stricter environmental protection laws and banned the beaching method. As a result, in the early 2000s, Chinese companies invested in modern ship recycling facilities, and became one of the preferred destinations for European ship owners seeking clean and safe recycling.
While the facilities are highly developed at the level of technology and methods used, they do not stand exempt from continued concerns. Not all yards are adequately equipped and trained for the safe removal and disposal of hazardous waste, in particular asbestos. Nor is there full traceability of waste streams. Also, there are no publicly available environmental impact assessments and data regarding the possible contamination of the sea or river water, air and sediments is often lacking. Regarding workers’ rights, the absence of independent trade unions remains a concern for those seeking ship recycling in line with international labour rights.