08 July 2017

Green opportunity in ship breaking

Green MEPs and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) see opportunities arising from the rapid contraction and consolidation of the European oil and gas industry where others might see only obstacles, write Margrete Auken and Martin Siecker.

Margrete Auken is an MEP with the Greens/EFA and Martin Siecker is a member of the EESC.

The need to dispose of offshore platforms opens up the prospect of creating thousands of jobs, stimulating technical innovation and contributing to Europe’s green economy.

Of particular interest are the numerous floating platforms and oil and gas structures which are classified as vessels. These are legally different from fixed platforms and installations and the rules that apply are effectively the same as for merchant ships.

By addressing this issue Europe will gain one more major benefit: it will build its long-term capacity to engage with the growing problem of how the great majority of end-of-life merchant ships are being broken up on the beaches of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, with no regard to environmental standards or workers’ rights.

Currently more than 1,000 large vessels are being dismantled annually and their steel recycled. Over the last 30 years, South East Asia has become the main centre for this work – a hazardous industry that exposes workers, the environment and communities to a great number of risks.

These include exposure to toxic materials – such as asbestos, heavy compounds, toxic residues – which may lead to long-term health diseases. Only days ago, the North Sea Producer, previously owned by Maersk and now under dismantling on a beach in Bangladesh, was found to contain radioactive substances above legal limits.

Shipbreaking has been declared the most dangerous job in the world by the ILO. In 2016, a shocking 86% of the world’s end-of-life tonnage, including oil and gas structures, was broken up under rudimentary conditions on Asian beaches. Some 40-50 workers die every year in the process.

The introduction of a European financial incentive for ship recycling might be one step in the right direction to address present weaknesses, and this in turn would help an industry which accounts for 1.3% of the EU’s GDP.

There is big money involved: vessels broken up on the beaches can fetch millions of dollars more than if they were dismantled in safe, contained yards. In recent years, the EU has tried, through various legislative measures, to ensure that EU-owned vessels are safely disposed of.

The 2013 Ship Recycling regulation requires all vessels flying an EU flag to be dismantled in a facility which has been EU-approved to be on the Recycling List. So far, there are 18 EU facilities on that list.

The problem is that the provisions only apply to EU-flagged vessels, meaning that if a vessel changes to a non-EU flag it will fall outside the scope of the regulation. This is frequently done as a deliberate avoidance measure at the end of life of a vessel when it is on the high seas.

As a result, the Ship Recycling Regulation does not apply as widely as it should. Maersk Line, the world’s largest container shipping company, has repeatedly threatened to flag out its vessels if the EU does not include beaching facilities in India on the list.

Green MEPs Margrete Auken, Bart Staes and Pascal Durand, together with the EESC are calling for a financial incentive to be added to the Ship Recycling Regulation to make it less financially attractive to dismantle ships on the coasts of South-East Asia.

Such an incentive could take the form of a recycling fund built up over the life of a vessel through a licence fee to be paid compulsorily prior to entering any EU port and comparable with meeting other health and safety or insurance requirements. Many member states have facilities where the dismantling of floating structures can take place safely and with due regard for labour and environmental concerns. According to Maersk’s own webpage, the repair of an oil rig brings 13 million Euro to the local economy.

In order to explore the challenges arising from a declining industry and how to transform it into new opportunities for the circular economy, job creation and development in coastal regions, Green MEPS and the EESC are hosting a joint, two-part event.

The first part will look at the problems and opportunities and take place at the EESC on 22 June to be followed by an event in the European Parliament on 28 June, exploring in more detail what additional legislation is needed.

Turning the historical Black Gold Industry into a Green Economic Legacy is a challenge that can and should be taken up. But in order to be successful, we need smart, common European rules. Shaping such rules is, in our view, part of the essence of the European Union.

Source: euractiv. 20 June 2017

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