23 September 2004

Asbestos Sparks Controversy at Rotterdam Convention:

Delegates at the first Conference of the Parties of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, meeting from 20-24 September in Geneva, agreed to add 14 new toxic chemicals, including a lead additive for petrol, to the PIC list. However, chrysotile asbestos — which accounts for 94 percent of the commercial asbestos production and is known to cause cancer — was again blocked from the list by a number of producing countries, including Canada and Russia (see BRIDGES Trade BioRes, 28 November 2003). 

Blue and brown asbestos had already been added to the list previously. Chrysotile asbestos is the first chemical to face significant opposition at the Rotterdam Convention. Many observers raised concerns that this decision might set a precedent for future discussions on economically important chemicals, fearing that economic and trade interests would override environmental and health concerns. “Canada and Russia’s objections to listing chrysotile asbestos are embarrassingly self-interested, protecting domestic exporters interested in selling this dangerous chemical abroad,” said Clifton Curtis, director of WWF’s Global Toxics Programme. The Canadian government defended its action, saying “If added to (the list), that might be perceived by some countries as a signal to ban chrysotile”.

In 2001Canada lost a WTO dispute that it had brought against France’s ban on chrysotile (see BRIDGES Weekly, 13 March 2001). The appellate body for the case found that France’s ban was justified under Article XX(b) of the 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which provides a general exception to WTO rules for measures considered necessary to protect human health, and in their ruling said that “carcinogenicity, or toxicity, constitutes, as we see it, a defining aspect of the physical properties of chrysotile asbestos fibres”.

The Rotterdam Convention, which entered into force on 24 February this year, enables member countries to add chemicals to the Convention’s list of toxic chemicals by consensus voting. Chemicals on the list can only be exported from one country to another with the permission of the government of the importing state.

“Treaty Curbs Trade in More Dangerous Chemicals,” REUTERS, 22 September 2004; “Canada blocks asbestos type from global toxic list,” REUTERS, 22 September 2004; “Up to 15 hazardous chemicals and pesticides to be added to trade watch list,” PIC ROTTERDAM CONVENTION, 16 September 2004.

Source: International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD). 23 September 2004

08 September 2004

STOP. Talking on the proposed Green Recycling Yard in Eemshaven

Tanker and Platform Dismantling Foundation, (Stichting Tanker Ontmanteling Platforms) - STOP. Talking on the proposed Green Recycling Yard in Eemshaven


This was the first IMIF buffet luncheon to be held outside the United Kingdom and it continued the IMIF "Green" ship recycling discussions entered into with the Chinese Shipscrapping Association in September. The UK based delegation travelled by Eurostar from Waterloo to Lille and then by road courtesy of Vroon to the Vroon offices at Breskens.

Peter Vroon welcomed the assembled delegates to Breskens and began by giving a brief introduction to the Vroon group which comprised cattle ships, petrol tankers, chemical tankers, car carriers, reefers and offshore supply vessels. He added that he was proud to be a long term member of IMIF.

Jim Davis responded thanking Peter for "the honour of being here in the centre of the shipping universe". He referred to the wide spread of the IMIF membership throughout the maritime industries. He recalled IMIF's original suggestions for Scrap and Build, the problems of oversupply of tonnage, the dangers of buying 'cheap' unnecessarily and the 'dear' consequences. He talked of the predictable life of a ship, say 20 years? - and its residual lwt value. "We need to find an end to a ship's life" he said. He referred to a visit to a breaking yard in Taiwan "it was a shade of hell" with people perched on the fo'c'sle of the ship, cutting away the plate they were actually standing on - and little women chipping away asbestos with a copper pipe.

Greenpeace and the ecologists are very critical - 'You are killing people' they say while the breakers themselves say 'We need the work to survive'. Jim reminded everyone that the Dutch had been the first to bring in a 'scrapping premium' built into the purchase price of new cars to cover the cost of their eventual disposal. Jim asked, "Why not the same for ships!"

Mr Mulder and STOP say it can be done. IMIF should listen to STOP and promote their ideas. We have recently met and talked to the Chinese Shipscrapping Association which is thinking along the same lines. And of course events are now unfolding at Hartlepool in the UK with the US reserve fleet. IMIF is observing all of it very carefully.

Doebren Mulder, Chairman of STOP reminded us that until the 1970's most ships were broken up in Europe. But with stricter regulations concerning the environment, health and safety dismantling became expensive and the industry moved away to the Third World, with many ships ending their lives in India, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan and Turkey and today 90% of all vessels from the richer countries finish up on these beaches where no proper standards are enforceable.

Over 100,000 men, women and children work in ship demolition, breaking ships with no protective clothing and with their bare hands. Referring to Alang he added that many workers are injured or killed through fire, explosions, failing steel plates and poison gasses. They are exposed daily to noxious substances, mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, asbestos with significant damage to their health and many of these noxious substances find their way into the immediate environment including soil, rivers and the sea itself. Pollution is worldwide and the seas are all connected. The number of ships requiring demolition is predicted to rise rapidly now with the phasing out of some 1300 singlehull tankers - most of them expected to end up on the same third-world beaches. Greenpeace, the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners and IMO are all making efforts to bring about the global regulation of ship recycling.

The Basel Convention, set up in 1989 and signed by over 100 countries with the intention of restricting the production and export of dangerous substances is issuing guidelines on the environmentfriendly recycling of old ships. Mr Mulder reminded the group that the Netherlands actually detained 'Sandrien' in 2001 under the Basel Convention when the tanker, containing asbestos, was on its way to Asia for demolition. STOP suggests that 'dirty' ships could perhaps be cleaned up during maintenance work, with poisonous materials being replaced by safer alternatives - and where the use of dangerous materials is unavoidable they should be registered. To be fully 'green' any demolition centre would need to have a watertight dry dock, highly skilled workers with protective clothing, specialist equipment and responsible waste disposal management. China is halfway there. And in Holland we have begun to talk.

On 20 November 2002 the Stichting Tanker Ontmanteling Platforms (Tanker and Platform Dismantling Foundation) STOP was set up to create just such a yard at Eemshaven, a location bordering on the vulnerable natural environment of the Wadden Sea. The Foundation is therefore undertaking a 'zero pollution strategy'. It is initially estimated that the yard will require 75 workers to process between 10 and 12 tankers a year. The yard will take two years to build. STOP approached Greenpeace. They were very positive about it. Mr Mulder reminded the delegates that Dutch labour is not cheap and that Holland has the toughest legislation in the world with regard to health and safety.

Participants in the scheme will include Barn nbm infra; Isotechniek; P&O Nedlloyd; Steenhuis Recycling; BGP engineers (who own the land to be used for the project);Groningen Seaports and various local councils. STOP's aim is to set and apply the necessary standards that could and should be developed globally - at present there are none. It should lead to worldwide certification and education. Mr Mulder contemplated a future scenario with up to 400 workers. All the best environmental factors were present including the railway and a harbour 12 metres in depth so everything was in place. He too was following the saga of the US 'ghost ships' including the possibility of 'building' suitably 'green' ships for the US navy. Certainly the potential for scrapping was there.

Apart from 700 regular ships coming up to scrapping age there were the 1300 single-hull tankers due for demolition before 2007. There were the 119 US 'ghost' ships, 270 drilling platforms in the North Sea and, in Europe 32 'problem' ships including 'Sandrien'. STOP proposed three drydocks initially, 310 metres x 55 metres (Panamax) and the development of 'green' energy using wind farms. Mr Mulder regarded cooperation between STOP and IMIF as an important step forward.

The meeting then adjourned to a most delightful restaurant set within a farm complex, the Restaurant de Vijverhoeve at Sluis where the discussions continued with Peter Vroon, Ravi Mehrotra and Jean Richards putting present day shipowners' viewpoints in contrast to the proposed ideal future scenario. Ravi emphasised that the world is governed by economics, with books to balance and that the scrap endprice was brought about by the demand for steel - it was not set by the breakers. Current prices are up simply because China needs 120 million tonnes of steel and at present there is a shortfall. Jim Davis summarized by saying that STOP should limit itself initially to specialist demolition of e.g. rigs and US Sealift vessels to test the practical methods of STOP and to demonstrate how eco-friendly demolition can be done. STOP should also concentrate on consulting / joint venturing with eg the Chinese once their methods are proven.

IMIF would like to thank our extremely generous host Peter Vroon, our guest speaker Doebren Mulder and his team and all the IMIF delegates for participating. It is very much appreciated.

Jim Davis CBE -   Chairman, IMIF
Maria Dixon - Shipping Consultant Panamanian Consulate General
John Faraclas - Shipping International Monthly Review
Ravi K Mehrotra - Chairman Foresight Group
Struan Robertson - Partner Stephenson Harwood & Deputy Chairman IMIF
Jean Richards - Managing Director Fairwind Shipping
Veronica Vallarino - Consul- General of the Republic of Panama
Ian Bouskill - Secretary IMIF

Dutch Delegates:
Peter Vroon - Host Vroon B.V.
Doebren Mulder - Guest speaker Chairman STOP
Pieter Baan - ING Bank
Peter Buijs - Secretary & co-founder STOP
Remeo Jongkind  - Fortis Bank
Casper Kroon - ING Bank
Albert Lenting - Advisor STOP
Herman Marks - Commercial Director Vroon B.V.
Paul van Baasbank - Vice President Shipping ABN Amro
Bertjan Volbeda - Director Transport & Energy Division NIB Capital Bank

Venue: Vroon B.V.,Haven Westzijde 21, 4510 AA Breskens, The Netherlands and the Restaurant de Vijverhoeve, Sluis, The Netherlands
Hosted by: Peter Vroon
Guest Speaker: Mr Doebren Mulder, Chairman,

Source: IMIF. Monday, 8 September 2004