A new law which the EU claim will clamp down on end-of-life ships being broken for recycling on beaches in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, has been slammed by environmental NGOs as doomed to failure and contradictory to Basal Convention.
The EU is to introduce controversial new legislation that will make it possible to legally recycle EU ships outside the OECD, but only in facilities that meet minimum environmentally requirements, according to The European Environment Commissioner, Janez Potočnik.
“Ship owners will be able to choose such facilities from an EU list at a reasonable price. I am convinced it will reduce the illegal practices currently blighting the industry, which will become more responsible and environmentally friendly as a result,” commented Potočnik.
The Commissioner added that the new law will also lead to investment in improving facilities to meet the new demand for better standards.
Under the present legislation, all European ships have to be recycled inside the OECD, as they are classified as hazardous waste and therefore banned from export under the Waste Shipment Regulation.
However, the ban has been ineffective and regularly circumvented in practice as ships are highly mobile even when they reach the end of their commercial life.
Further hampering the goal has been the lack of recycling capacity in the OECD and attractive prices for scrap metal in Asia which has meant that they are simply reflagged.
As a result, most European ships are dismantled in Asia in poor facilities, causing significant environmental pollution at a high cost to human health. The use of child labour was also regularly documented.
In 2012, 70% of all end-of-life ships were broken in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India on tidal beaches whose soft sands cannot support crucial safety measures such as heavy lifting or emergency response equipment and which allow pollution to seep directly into the delicate coastal zone environment.
According to the Commission the new regulation implements the rules of the 2009 Hong Kong Convention for the safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships.
The Regulation aims to improve ship recycling conditions for EU-flagged ships worldwide by prompting the upgrade of ship recycling facilities to the standards included in the Regulation. This is done by providing a number of requirements to be met by ship recycling facilities which want to recycle EU-flagged ships.
Facilities meeting such requirements will be able to apply for inclusion in the European List of ship recycling facilities, and if they are satisfactory, they will receive a green light to recycle European vessels.
In addition, ships will have to carry on board an inventory of hazardous materials which will enable the recycling facilities to dismantle them safely. According to the Commission this will advance the practical implementation of the standards of the Hong Kong Convention in anticipation of its entry into force.
The Commission will look into further means to incentivise the use of higher standard facilities, and is invited in the proposal to report on the possibilities for a fund for this purpose.
The new regulations have not been universally welcomed however. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform and European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which represents over 160 environmental, human and labour rights organisations, have both denounced the measures as doomed to failure.
According to the NGOs European shipping interests will continue to make significant financial profits by externalizing environmental and human health costs to the shipbreaking beaches of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, and to the exploited workforce there.
The organisations claimed that while the regulation may direct a very limited scope of ships registered under an EU flag to ‘green’ listed ship recycling facilities, does nothing to prevent ship owners from jumping register to a non-EU flag prior to sending their ships for breaking in order to avoid falling under the requirements of the new EU law.
In fact, said the NGOs, the regulation may even have the unintended effect of shrinking the number of ships registered under an EU flag, and therefore making the Regulation counterproductive to other EU initiatives aimed at building a more robust EU fleet.
However, the organisations did welcome the fact that the Council accepted the European Parliament’s proposal to bind all ships calling at EU ports to have an inventory of hazardous materials (IHM) that are contained within the vessels’ structure - prerequisite for clean and safe ship recycling.
The scope of the regulation is limited to EU flagged vessels only, which the NGOs point out represents less than 10% of the vessels sent for breaking.
Already, most European owned vessels broken on the beaches of South Asia are registered under non-EU flags such as Panama, Liberia and the Bahamas.
According to the NGOs, just as ship owners circumvent the current export prohibition under the European Waste Shipment Regulation by not declaring their intent to dispose the vessel whilst at a European port, it is very likely that more ship owners will circumvent the new EU rules by simply flagging out to non-EU flags at end-of-life, so that they avoid extra costs of using safe and environmentally sound ship recycling facilities.
“We fear that the Regulation will end up applying to very few ships,” commented Jeremy Wates, secretary general of the EEB.
“Unless an economic incentive for all ships calling at EU ports is rapidly introduced, circumvention of the law will persist, and the European shipping industry will continue to be at the heart of scandals involving severe pollution of coastal zones and exploitation of vulnerable workers in developing countries,” he warned.
Patrizia Heidegger, director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform added: “We are concerned that the shortcomings of the Regulation will make it ineffective and worse still, that the EU could be setting a dangerous precedent for other industries that want to avoid being held accountable to international environmental laws.”
The shipping industry was said to have already pledged years ago to equip vessels with such an IHM, yet most ships go for breaking with an unknown amount of hazardous materials on board. Image Credit: YPSA 2009
According to a statement by the NGOs, the ship recycling regulation exempts ships from the European Waste Shipment Regulation, which is intended to protect developing countries from the dumping of hazardous wastes, and incorporates the United Nations Basel Convention and its Basel Ban Amendment.
The organisations warned that there are clear and compelling legal opinions proving that this unilateral exemption of ships is a breach of the European Union’s legal obligations to uphold the Basel Convention and its Basel Ban Amendment.
Independent environmental law specialists, Ludwig KRÄMER were also said to have warned of the illegality of the new regulation, as were the European Council Legal Services.
“Not only do the EU institutions create a legal dilemma for themselves, but also for all of the 27 European Member States that are Parties to the Basel Convention. All will have to reconcile the illegality of unilaterally acting in non-compliance with their international obligations,” cautioned Heidegger.
Recent studies have proposed an array of possible mechanisms to implement the polluter pays principle, which would focus on the ship owner, and according to the NGOs have clearly shown that a financial incentive for proper ship recycling is legally feasible, enforceable, and necessary.
The Shipbreaking Platform said that while the EU has failed to provide effective solutions to remedy the global shipbreaking crisis, it is moving ahead with a market based solution in an effort to hold the industry accountable.
The organisation recently launched its data-driven website which lists shipping companies that have commercially benefited from selling their end-of-life vessels for breaking on the beaches of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The aim of the campaign is to forge partnerships with industry leaders - recycling, shipping, cargo owners, etc. - to promote clean and safe ship recycling and to avoid business dealings with companies that continue to opt for beach breaking operations.
“The fight for environmental justice in the shipping industry is far from over,” asserted Heidegger. “When political leadership fails us, it is time to pressure the marketplace by shaming substandard practices and directing customers to the green ship recyclers.”
Source: waste-management-world By Ben Messenger. 4 July 2013