Alert by the NGO Shibreaking Platform

2011.9.21- vessel.jpgIn a letter mailed to the Brussels-based Environment attachés of all 27 Member States, environmental groups have denounced a proposal by the European Commission on ship recycling to legalize the export of hazardous end-of-life ships to developing countries. This practice has been forbidden in Europe since January of 1997. By unilaterally seeking to exempt most ships from the EU Waste Shipment regulation, the Commission would break with the EU law that implements the international treaty known as the Basel Convention and its Amendment which bans hazardous waste exports to the world's poorest countries, says NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

"The proposal is both profoundly immoral and illegal," said Roberto Ferrigno of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. "And yet it does not appear that the Commission understands the gravity of this action. This proposal will render European governments powerless in preventing exports of asbestos and PCB laden ships from being sent to developing countries and putting vulnerable workers at risk in contravention of our own treaty obligations. We are calling on the EU, which has the capacity to recycle ships safely and cleanly, to respect its laws and create good shipyard jobs at home."

No adequate ship recycling capacity?

The European Environment Council will debate the Commission's proposal on ship recycling on the 25th of October. The Commission has justified their proposal by claiming that the EU and developed countries lack adequate ship recycling capacity and that, in any case, there is no way to prevent ships from simply reflagging their ships to circumvent national laws. Environmental groups assert that the capacity studies of the Commission are flawed and further, that the Commission has failed to look into ship-owner/producer responsibility schemes which would create funds for proper, safe and environmentally friendly recycling operations in Europe - saving both jobs and the environment.

Because the Basel Convention allows no exceptions or reservations to its rules, and that Convention lists ships as covered hazardous wastes, the EU proposal has legal experts shaking their heads. "The Commission Proposal constitutes a unilateral departure from the provisions of the Basel Convention that is not allowed by the Convention," said Prof. Dr. Ludwig Kraemer, noted European Community legal expert. "The adoption of the proposal by the European Parliament and the Council would constitute a breach of the EU obligations under the Basel Convention and would therefore be illegal."

70 percent run ashore on tidal beaches

Each year, approximately 800 ocean ships reach the end of their services and are broken down to recover primarily steel. Yet, only a fraction is handled in a safe, sustainable manner. According to NGO Shipbreaking Platform, about 70 percent of all ships are simply run ashore on tidal beaches in developing countries such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, often ignoring the Basel Convention obligations, where unscrupulous companies exploit minimal enforcement of environmental and safety rules to maximize profits.

The European Commission estimates that 40,000 to 1,3 million tonnes of toxic substances onboard vessels (including asbestos, PCBs, and heavy metals) are exported each year to South Asia from the EU alone. In Bangladesh, children under 15 years of age count for 20 percent of the workforce. In 2011, more than 55 workers were reported killed in accidents in shipbreaking operations in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Last Saturday, five workers were killed in a fire that broke on a ship beached in Alang, India.

Source: NGO Shipbreaking Platform