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The Captain needs to take the wheel

Written By Gopal Krishna on Thursday, November 20, 2008 | 9:24 AM

NGOs call for urgent action for Europe to move beyond “business as usual” approach of IMO to solve global shipbreaking crisis

Brussels, 20 November 2008: A new European Commission strategy for the dismantling of end-of-life ships threatens to drift into dangerous waters unless Environment Commissioner Dimas steps in and puts a strong hand to the wheel, the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking warned today.

Shipbreaking, currently carried out by workers recruited among the poor and destitute - including many children - of South Asia, has been declared by the International Labour Organisation as one of the most hazardous jobs in the world. European-flagged ships containing toxic waste are broken down by hand on the beaches of countries like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

A coalition of human rights and environmental non-governmental organisations, known as the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, are appealing to Commissioner Dimas to commit to specific action that will halt current practices that are endangering human health in some of the poorest countries of the world, and dangerously harming the environment.

Specifically, the Platform has asked the Commission to support an explicit ban on the breaking of ships through a method known as “beaching”, whereby ships are run aground on tidal flats. Beaching while accepted by the industry dominated International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has been condemned globally as being incapable of delivering safety for workers, nor providing adequate protection of the marine environment from ship borne pollutants. It is crucial that the EU rejects the beaching method utterly.

“Primacy can no longer be given to short-term profits over human lives and environmental pollution. We are expecting that the European Union takes the global lead and reject the ‘business-as-usual’ approach of the industry,” said Rizwana Hasan from Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), member organisation of the NGO Platform. “We in Bangladesh are ready for a rapid phase-out of the corrupt and unsustainable beaching method and the phasing-in of an appropriate contained technology with a trained adult workforce.”

The Platform welcomes the suggestions by the Commission for vitally needed measures to establish independent certification and auditing of ship dismantling yards and the call for a mandatory funding mechanism based on the “polluter pays principle”. The Platform emphasises the need for the Commission to rapidly move beyond feasibility studies and fully commit to these measures and the principles behind them. Contributions to a mandatory fund can be linked to IMO registration or the operation of ships over their lifetime, either through port fees or mandatory insurance schemes, and are essential in order to internalize with the shipping industry costs currently borne by the environment and the health of impoverished communities in developing countries. The Platform has advocated such a fund for many years within the IMO, but the idea was soundly rejected by major shipping powers such as Norway, Greece and Japan.

The Commission’s Communication on a European Strategy for better ship dismantling precedes a global convention on ship recycling by the IMO that aims to establish international standards for the ship dismantling industry. The Commission recognised yesterday that the reform efforts of the IMO may represent too little, too late. Riddled with loopholes, the proposed IMO convention is likely incapable of changing the current situation according to many observers, including the NGO Platform. However certain sectors within the Commission and some member states are pressing for the EU to take a backseat to the “global” effort – a stance the activists see as very dangerous.

“It is very clear that the IMO Convention has been an exercise in “greenwashing”,” said Jim Puckett, of Platform member Basel Action Network. “It represents political piracy, where fundamental environmental and human rights principles have been hijacked in the name of the United Nations by an industrial special interest group. It is vital that the EU does not legitimize this process any further, but rather strike out on their own to actually solve the problem through known mechanisms and principles of producer responsibility”.

The platform fears that without strong leadership from Europe the unacceptable shipbreaking practices in South Asia could actually worsen, and even spread farther afield to countries in Africa. Considering the number of ships going out of service in the next few years following a global phase out of single hull oil tankers, adding to a backlog of old vessels still in operation that will soon be scrapped, the need for definitive regulation is urgent.

“It is time for the world leaders to draw a line in the sand and stop the dumping of toxic ships from developed countries onto the beaches of the poorest countries of the world. The European Union needs to set a higher standard for European ships or risk being towed to the bottom by ship-owners’ intent on avoiding the costs of protecting human health and the environment” said Ingvild Jenssen, Platform coordinator.


Web page:
www.shipbreakingplatform.org
Contacts:
Ingvild Jenssen, Brussels: +32 (0)2 6094 419, ingvild@shipbreakingplatform.org


NOTES:

NGOs welcomed in May 2007 the European Commission’s “Green Paper for Better Ship Dismantling” and called at that time, as did the European Parliament in May this year, for urgent implementation of several of the proposals made, such as strengthening the enforcement of existing Community law; requiring that the ship owners take full responsibility for proper disposal of their vessels; supporting authorities in developing countries so that international standards on workers rights and the protection of the environment are enforced; streamlining shipping aids with a link to green ship dismantling; and strengthening EU ship dismantling capacity.

Each year between 200 and 800 large ocean going vessels are broken world-wide. More than 80% of these are broken on beaches in South Asian countries. An estimated 40% of the world fleet is EU owned.

Bangladesh is currently the largest shipbreaking country. A recent study by Platform members FIDH and YPSA have estimated that 20% of the workforce on the shipbreaking beaches of Bangladesh are children under 15 years old. The report can be downloaded here: http://www.shipbreakingplatform.com/dmdocuments/reports/Report_Childbreaking_Yards_2008.pdf

Note: Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) is a the Focal Point for the Platform on shipbreaking in India
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