The controversial case of the Harrier
It all started with an anonymous letter informing us that the EIDE CARRIER was sold for scrap. Having been laid up for many years on the Norwegian west coast the Platform immediately contacted the owners, Eide Group, to make them aware that exporting the vessel to a South Asian beaching yard would be in breach of European waste laws. Eide Group categorically refuted at the time that the vessel sold for scrap. Little did they – or we – know what would then happen.
Almost a year and a half later, in February 2017, the vessel attempted to leave Norway under a new name, new flag and new registered owner. After a simple stroke of paint to alter the first letter, the vessel was now called TIDE CARRIER. The ship had swapped its flag to that of Comoros and was registered under an anonymous St. Kitts and Nevis post-box company called Julia Shipping Inc. All solid indications that a cash buyer - a scrap dealer specialised in the trading of end-of-life ships to the South Asian beaching yards - was involved.
Only hours after its departure, the engine stopped. Despite the ship’s deteriorating condition and bad weather conditions, the vessel’s new captain, from Nabeel Ship Management, did not call for help. The ship was drifting towards one of Norway’s most renowned beaches and the Norwegian coastguards were forced to trigger a salvage operation to avoid the risk of oil spill and grounding. The rescue operation included the emergency evacuation of 5 crew members – one of which suffered from a broken shoulder – and the deployment of two tugboats to bring the ship to safety.
At the request of the owners, Julia Shipping Inc., the ship was laid up in Gismarvik. Its name was re-painted and changed this time to HARRIER. The flag also changed again, from Comoros to another popular end-of-life flag, Palau. According to the Comoros registry, which was contacted by the Norwegian authorities, the vessel had in fact never been registered under the Comoros flag.
The Platform alerted the authorities that the vessel in all likelihood had been sold to a beaching yard in South Asia to be scrapped, and that the post box company Julia Shipping Inc. in all likelihood was concealing a cash buyer. We also alerted that there were suspicions that the ship had been used to store hazardous sludge.
When the Norwegian Environment Agency boarded the laid-up vessel they found evidence that the HARRIER was indeed under a “break up voyage” insurance from Norway to Gadani, Pakistan. They also found unidentified and excessive amounts of sludge and fuel oils. The sales contract that dated from summer 2015 – when we had first received the anonymous tip-off – revealed that the contact person for Julia Shipping Inc. was Keyur Dave, Chief Financial Officer at cash buyer Wirana. It thus became clear that the repair contract from Oman which had been provided to the Norwegian authorities as a way to escape checks for the illegal export of the vessel for breaking was false. The HARRIER was now under arrest and not allowed to leave Norway unless it was to sail to a ship recycling destination in line with international and European hazardous waste laws.
Norwegian authorities pressed charges against the owners for having attempted to illegally export hazardous waste and rejected the complaint of Julia Shipping Inc., represented by law firm Wikborg Rein, for the arrest order.
Without having paid the fees for lay-up in Gismarvik, the HARRIER was moved to be anchored off the coast of Farsund. There, two crew members remained confined onboard the ship for more than one year. With the help of Norsk Gjennvinning, Wirana finally obtained the approval from both Norwegian and Turkish authorities to scrap the ship in Aliaga, Turkey, where it arrived in August 2018 – three years after its initial sale for breaking. Before leaving Norway, Wirana was forced to pay GMC in Gismarvik EUR 700.000 for lay-up costs that had still not been settled.
Bad omen, or rather just another sign of how reckless cash buyers are: on its way to Aliaga, the HARRIER caused an oil spill in the Izmir region. Turkish authorities have given the owners a fine of USD 300.000 for the spill and also requested them to pay for the clean-up operation, estimated at 4,5 mill USD. Until the fine and clean-up costs are paid, the recycling of the ship is at halt. In the meantime, the recycling yard in Aliaga, SOK, is stuck with a vessel it has already paid Wirana for and cannot start recycling – and Julia Shipping Inc. has disappeared…
In Norway, police investigations, now headed by the financial crimes division, are still ongoing. The former and current owners of the ship, Georg Eide and cash buyer Wirana, are targeted, and risk being held criminally liable for their attempt to illegally export the Harrier to Pakistan for scrapping. Also marine warranty surveyor Aqualis Offshore and insurance company Skuld Maritime Agency are under investigation for their involvement in the attempt to illegally export the Harrier to Pakistan. Aqualis Offshore issued two certificates for the ship on the same day – one for a break-up voyage to Pakistan, another for a voyage to Oman. Skuld Maritime Agency was involved in issuing the last-voyage insurance for the vessel and is therefore being investigated for having aided the illegal export.
The HARRIER case reveals the business practices of ship owners and cash buyers, and adds to several other cases where authorities have been lied to and provided false information as a way to escape checks for the illegal export of end-of-life ships. It is also a case that illustrates the many risks of entering into business relationships with unreliable companies that have a bad track record putting profit above people and the environment.