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Another Dutch Shipowner Fined for Beaching a Vessel

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By MarEx 2019-01-21 17:27:12

Dutch shipowner Holland Maas Scheepvaart Beheer II BV has been fined for having beached a ship for scrapping in India.

The company was fined 780,000 EUR ($887,000) and also paid a settlement of 2.2 million EUR ($2.5 million).

In 2013, Holland Maas Scheepvaart Beheer II BV, a subsidiary of WEC Lines BV, sold the HMS Laurence to a cash buyer. The vessel ended up in Alang, India, where it was broken under conditions that “cause serious damage to the environment and expose the health of workers and the local population to grave danger,” according to the Dutch Public Prosecutor. Scrapping ships on tidal mudflats is not allowed in Europe, and the export of hazardous materials from the E.U. to developing countries is prohibited. 

The Dutch Public Prosecutor agreed to a settlement of 2.2 million EUR: the amount that Holland Maas Scheepvaart Beheer II BV had earned by selling the ship to the beaching yard. The Prosecutor stated that it had accepted the settlement, as the company has announced that it will take measures to avoid scrapping vessels on beaches in the future.

Back in 2015, the captain of the HMS Laurence was sentenced by the Dutch Maritime Disciplinary Court to a six-month conditional suspension of his master’s navigation license. Beaching the vessel was in breach of the captain’s duty of care to the environment, according to the Disciplinary Court.

In March last year another Dutch shipping company, Seatrade, was convicted for having intended to scrap four vessels in India. Five subsidiaries of the company received fines, as did two of Seatrade’s CEOs, who were also sentenced to professional bans. 

“It is very encouraging to see that shipowners are being held accountable for the trafficking of toxic ships – it is also encouraging to see that WEC Lines BV is now committed to the safe and clean recycling of its fleet off the beach. With that they join other responsible shipowners, such as Dutch Boskalis, German Hapag Lloyd, and Scandinavian companies Wallenius-Wilhelmsen and Grieg, that already have sustainable recycling policies in place that clearly rule out beaching,” says Ingvild Jenssen, Executive Director and Founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

However, Dr. Nikos Mikelis, Non-Executive Director of cash buyer GMS, says the case of the HMS Laurence is another unpleasant surprise, added to the string of earlier European decisions and actions whose purpose has been difficult to understand. The vessel, flying the flag of the Netherlands, is reported to have departed from Italy in 2013 to go to India for recycling. The Dutch owners of this vessel are then reported as having paid a fine and a settlement to the Dutch public prosecutor.

“On the basis of this limited information it appears that the Dutch public prosecutor carried out criminal investigations for a violation of the European Union Regulation on Shipments of Waste, that took place five years earlier in Italy. A question that comes to mind is whether the shipowner could have challenged the jurisdiction of the Dutch court. Hopefully the owner has had good legal advice and has not paid unnecessarily such a large settlement,” says Mikelis.

“The next question that comes to mind is what good will this action do, and therefore why did the public prosecutor spent resources investigating this case. The obvious answer would appear to be that the Dutch authorities want to deter shipowners from evading regulations on ship recycling. That is laudable, no doubt. However, the indisputable fact is that shipowners, once they understand the provisions of the two European regimes of the Shipments of Waste Regulation and of the Ship Recycling Regulation, they are certainly able to legally avoid their requirements by flagging out, or by delaying their final voyage to the recycling yard until the ship is away from E.U. waters, and/or maybe by selling on the basis of “as-is where-is.” 

“It is possible that the authorities do not understand this. It is also possible that the authorities do not understand that, if they are really concerned about the safety and environmental protection of ship recycling, there is a lot they can do to encourage the improvement of standards in the main ship recycling centers. In the first place Europe can recognize and include in the European List of approved yards, those yards in South Asia that have achieved good standards. 

“Also, 10 years after the adoption of Hong Kong Convention, European countries have no excuse for further delaying its ratification and entry into force,” says Mikelis. “There should be no doubt that sooner or later, Hong Kong Convention will be the international norm, and the Dutch and other European authorities will not be investigating and prosecuting cases such as the Seatrade and the HMS Laurence. In the meantime, this latest surprise ought to be a wake-up call to the many shipowners that have not engaged in the ship recycling debate.”