EU Releases Guidelines for Certified Shipbreakers
On April 12, the European Commission published new legal guidelines which – advocates suggest – may prevent South Asian beaching shipbreakers from receiving required certification for dismantling EU-flag state vessels.
The implementation document states that "applying environmentally sound management principles and compliance with regulations for recycling a ship will rely, at least partly, on developing appropriate infrastructure. Operationally, it follows . . . that the transfer of elements from the ship to the facility’s impermeable floor is done without the elements coming in contact with the sea, the intertidal zone or any other permeable surface such as sand or gravel."
Yards in the developing world handle an estimated 70 percent of the world’s obsolete tonnage; they generally rely on grounding ships onto soft beaches, where the hulks are dismantled at competitive rates through the use of migrant labor and basic implements. The operation involves cutting blocks off of the beached vessels and dropping them by gravity onto the beach, where they are winched up the shore for further scrapping. Bangladeshi safety advocates BELA suggest that over 90 workers have died carrying out these practices over the course of the last seven years; shipbreakers in the country face charges of contempt of court for failure to improve conditions.
Advocates with NGO Shipbreaking Platform suggest that the EC’s requirements will restrict shipbreaking activity to safer and less polluting yards in the developed world. As a measure of the regulation's stringency, it would disallow EU certification for some federally-regulated American shipbreaking yards, which presently rely on the use of permeable tidal beaches and adjacent land.
“Recycling yards that want to make it on the EU list of approved facilities need to meet high environmental and safety standards. The EC is clear in its message: an unprotected beach is never going to be an appropriate place for a high-risk heavy industry involving hazardous waste management”, said Ingvild Jenssen, Policy Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
However, the guidelines on facilities contain a caveat that could permit certification for yards with limited capital improvements. The hull of the scrapped ship itself can be considered an "impermeable floor," so long as its integrity is sound, pollution from dismantlement is controlled, and cut blocks are lifted clear to a separate impermeable area for scrapping. A drydock is not required to meet the minimum infrastructure standards for certification. After cutting upper blocks free, the bottom of the hull would also have to be winched clear onto an impermeable, well-drained surface in order to complete the dismantlement process.
NGO Shipbreaking Platform’s founder and policy director, Ingvild Jenssen, confirmed that the rules leave room for beaching, with the right upgrades to breaking yards.
“The EU SRR allows for the ship’s hull to act as the impermeable floor, and cranes that could lift cut-off blocks in a controlled manner from the ship to the impermeable floor for further cutting would at least [ensure] that these blocks are not in contact with a permeable surface that does not allow containment of pollutants,” she said. “[But] maintaining the primary cutting zone in an area subject to high tidal differences does not seem optimal,” she added, citing pollution from falling paint chips and slag, plus the risk of an oil spill.
She also confirmed that re-flagging a vessel at end of life is, and will remain, an effective way for some shipowners – or their “cash buyer” intermediaries – to evade regulation. “It is already the case that many vessels hit the beach under flags of convenience (FOCs). Certain Paris MoU grey- and black-listed FOCs are particularly popular at end-of-life (such as Comoros, St. Kitts and Nevis): in most cases, cash buyers are the ones opting for low-cost flags that offer discounts for last voyage registration. Ensuring sustainable ship recycling globally will need regulation that goes beyond flag state jurisdiction. A financial incentive such as that currently being discussed at the European level would go a longer way in pushing irresponsible ship owners towards safe and environmentally sound ship recycling facilities.”