16 June 2014

Sending the Wrong Message to Ship Breakers:

June 13th’s piece entitled “Embarrassment for Shipowners Not Law Enforcers” by Patrizia Heidegger of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform responds to the opinions I expressed on 5th June on the calls by the NGO for the detention of the Global Spirit in Antwerp. In responding now to Ms Heidegger’s points of view I ought to look at the bigger picture and avoid arguing about details.

I certainly share with Ms Heidegger the belief that no one should be above the law and, more specifically, that the recycling of ships should be done with consideration of workers’ health and safety and the protection of the environment. I also recognize that Ms Heidegger’s organization has kept alive in the public domain a focus on the need for higher standards in ship recycling, this way contributing to the motivation for the development and adoption by the member States of the International Maritime Organisation of the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships.

It is a fact that a number of ship recyclers in South Asia have been investing in improvements of safety and environmental protection in their yards. Not all recyclers have yet seen the need to do so. Lumping them all together under the unfortunate and unjust rhetoric of “infamous ship breaking beaches in India” is certainly not the way to help bring forward improvements. To me, a much better policy for the NGO Platform would be to encourage and help those recyclers who are achieving meaningful improvements. In this way these recyclers can attract better ships, possibly at better prices, from better (i.e. discerning) shipowners. Quality yards that are successful will soon become examples to be imitated by the rest of the industry.

Compare this to what is happening now. When the NGO Platform succeeds in its campaigns against ships and shipowners, it stops the few shipowning companies who have policies for socially responsible ship recycling from supporting with their custom those deserving yards that are instigating improvements, exactly as in the case of the Global Spirit. Just consider what the message from last week’s actions was to all of South Asia’s recyclers: “don’t bother trying; however much you improve, we will oppose you”. Surely this cannot be what the NGO Platform wants to achieve. Obviously, if the recyclers give up improving, it is the South Asian yard workers and the local environment that will pay the price.

It is time for the transition. The NGO Platform needs to start moving away from its twin policies of opposing beaching and promoting the enforcement of the Waste Shipments Regulation. At the same time, it needs to use its influence to support, in a critical way, sustainable improvements in safety and environmental protection in recycling yards in South Asia. If they can do that, I will consider joining them.

Source: maritime executive. 15 June 2014

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