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UN's IMO adopts anti-environment & anti-worker Ship Breaking Treaty

Written By mediavigil on Friday, May 15, 2009 | 7:20 AM

Press Release

Ship owners & ship owning countries escape decontamination cost of toxic ships

IMO writes the obituary of Basel Convention

15 May 2009 New Delhi – Allowing ongoing contamination of once pristine beaches in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, today United Nations' International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted an International Convention on Ship Recycling in Hong Kong, China despite concerns about vulnerable workers and coastal environment.

Unmindful of the democratic process underway in India, IMO, EU and other participating countries unethically adopted the treaty at the IMO Diplomatic Conference following deliberations during May 11-15, 2009 even as the entire Indian government machinery remained occupied with the parliamentary elections.

A European Parliament resolution also condemned the breaking of ships on beaches this year but Europeans countries chose to adopt the treaty with such condemnable practice. Ships are dismantled primarily for secondary steel but ships are laden with hazardous waste and substances such as asbestos, oily wastes, PCBs and toxic paints. Notably, the issue of radioactive secondary steel and hazards from it remained unaddressed.

Trade Unions and NGOs working in the fields of workers rights, human rights, environment, and health, express total lack of faith in the proposed UN treaty on Ship Breaking/ Ship Recycling through IMO because its the provisions in the treaty are regressive in nature.

There were concerns over the entry-into-force criteria but now it has been decided by the IMO that the International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships should come into force 24 months after the entry-into-force conditions are met requiring not less than 15 states to ratify the convention.IMO conventions historically took five years after approval before they were finally ratified, but the IMO now had a three-year ratification target.

The treaty ends up giving incentives to those companies who exploit workers and pollute coastal environment. It is sad that now international legal provisions regulating trade in dead and obsolete ships would be in a suspension of sort.

IMO is following the footsteps of the WTO and its position on ship recycling proves that the institution is fundamentally flawed, designed to place corporate profits above the need to protect our environment, occupational health and even democracy.

Ship breaking/ Ship Recycling is industrial activity for the production of secondary steel. IMO has no competence to deal with such an industrial process which is competent only in maritime matters.

The draft IMO Convention on the Safe Recycling of Ships is a text has been prepared at the behest of the by the global shipping industry in general and European ship owning countries and ship owners in particular. It legitimizes the ongoing exploitation of workers, villagers and the marine environment and at the end of the life of a ship. As long the ship breaking operations has continued on pristine Alang beach there has not been and there will never bee safety either for workers or for the coastal environment.

The treaty fails to stop the fatally flawed technique of breaking ships through “beaching method”, where ships are cut open in the sea and tidal flats of the beaches of south Asian countries in a method in which it is impossible to contain oils and toxic contaminants from entering the marine environment, bring lifting cranes along side ships to lift heavy cut pieces or to rescue workers and bring emergency equipment (ambulances, fire trucks) to the workers or the ships Protect the fragile intertidal coastal zone from the hazardous wastes on ships.

The IMO treaty does not call for removal of ship breaking/ ship recycling operations on pristine beaches. It promotes ongoing pollution of the marine environment with impunity and it ensures that ship owners and ship owning countries escape accountability for their contaminated ships. This UN treaty does not alter the current grave yard status of shipbreaking yards in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The treaty is an attempt to undo the work done by the global environmental movement of the past to legislate and regulate through the UN’s Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which has been endorsed by the Supreme Court of India.

The IMO treaty does nothing to prevent hazardous wastes such as asbestos, PCBs, old fuels, from being exported to the poorest communities and most desperate workers in developing countries and ignores Polluter Pays/Producer Responsibility Principle, Environmental Justice/Transfer no Harm Principles, Waste Prevention/Substitution Principles and Principle of Environmentally Sound Management.

The treaty promotes externalization of cost of pollution that was so infamously championed by the Lawrence Summers, the Chief Economist, World Bank so that real costs and liabilities of ships at end-of-life gets transferred to developing countries like India.

The proposed IMO treaty is just a tool to further the unfair trade practices being advocated in the WTO at the behest of European governments in particular. The fact remains there is no unfair trade that does not fall under the ambit of WTO.

Local regulations such as in India requiring that imported products meet local standards on such matters as recycling, toxic substances, labelling and inspection can be easily overruled by the WTO Appellate Body, this IMO treaty makes their work easier. Consequently, we reject this act of legislation by a UN body on a subject which is beyond its competence and jurisdiction.

In any case it was unethical for the current Indian government officials to have been party to an international treaty at this stage.

The adoption of the treaty is akin to writing the obituary of the UN;'s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal through the existing text of the IMO treaty on ship breaking /ship recycling. Basel Convention is a UN treaty controlling such hazardous wastes with 170 member countries and prohibiting the export of all hazardous wastes to developing countries, and they have adopted shipbreaking guidelines calling for a phase-out of the use of beaches for breaking ships.

It is noteworthy that IMO disregards the fact that some 80 percent of the global end-of-life ships are broken in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan on tidal beaches whose soft sands cannot support crucial safety measures such as heavy lifting or emergency response equipment and which allow pollution to seep directly into the delicate coastal zone environment. No country in the developed world allows ships to be broken on their beaches. Ship breaking is possible with proper technologies and infrastructure, and enforced regulations but most ship-owners choose to sell their ships through dubious cash buyers in tax havens by under reporting the price thus indulging in a black economy.

For more information contact:

Gopal Krishna, E-mail: krishnagreen@gmail.com, Mb: 9818089660, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
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