The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted by the International Maritime Organization at a diplomatic conference held in
Hong Kong in May 2009. It is aimed at ensuring that ships, when being recycled at the end of their operational lives, are treated in a manner that does not pose any unnecessary risk to human health and safety, and to the environment.
The convention, which was designed to address concerns about this issue raised when publicity was given to conditions in many of the Sub-Continental ship recycling facilities, aims to do three things. Firstly, it is designed to regulate the design, construction, operation and preparation of ships so as to facilitate safe and environmentally sound recycling without compromising their safety and operational efficiency. Secondly, the convention aims to regulate the operation of recycling facilities in a safe and environmentally sound manner. Thirdly, it establishes an enforcement mechanism for the certification and reporting of ship recycling.
Practical matters contained within the convention include the need for ships to be provided with an inventory of hazardous materials, which addresses concerns about accidents which had happened when ships were demolished, or health concerns relating to formerly used shipbuilding materials such as asbestos or materials which can give off toxic gases when being recycled. It is also recognised that if ships are designed from the start with their eventual recycling in mind, all forms of hazards can be reduced. However, the treatment of ships built before the convention comes into force which will cause the most problems.
The shipping industry has been made aware of the problems for health, safety and the environment and is anxious to see best practice applied to the process that sees ships typically sold to scrap buyers and mostly dealt with in the sub-continent and Asian recycling facilities, where there is a local market for virtually all of the materials generated from a dismantled ship. A set of guidelines on the transitional measures that can be employed prior to the Hong Kong Convention coming into force deals with the need to deal with the matter of hazardous materials and to sell ships to reputable yards that will deal with them in a responsible manner. Shipping companies are already implementing these measures, believing that they are part of their corporate social responsibilities. Much will also depend on the abilities of the states in which the recycling facilities are located to implement health, safety and environmental measures, although means of using technical assistance to help with this are provided.