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Why India, Bangladesh and Pakistan should adhere to Basel Convention & not ratify Hong Kong Convention on ship breaking

Written By Gopal Krishna on Thursday, September 12, 2013 | 2:01 AM

Why India, Bangladesh and Pakistan should adhere to Basel Convention & not ratify Hong Kong Convention on ship breaking
New EU Regulation on ship recycling adopted under influence of European Shipping Industry, ignores environmental and occupational health concerns
New Delhi September 12, 2013: ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), a research and advocacy group condemns the call by vested interests for ratification of regressive anti-environment, anti-labour Hong Kong Convention of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) drafted to safeguard the interests of ship owning companies at the 2nd Annual Conference on Ship Recycling was organized by Hinode Events and Services Pvt Ltd at Hotel Vivanta by Taj President, Mumbai in the first week of September, 2013.
Both IMO’s Convention and the new EU ship recycling Regulation conflicts with the United Nations’ Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal and the Basel Ban Amendment.
TWA has been an applicant in the Supreme Court in the matter related to hazardous wastes trade/ship breaking. It raised issues of occupational health and safety at the meeting of the Working Group of National Advisory Council on September 2-3, 2013.     
Communities living in the vicinity of Alang, Bhavnagar, India, Chittagong, Bangladesh and Gadani, Pakistan have been demanding that IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) must ensure decontamination of the beaches and suggest a phase out period for the industry to move away from a fragile coastal environment like beaches in order to protect the health of the local community and their ecosystem. The wrongful act of having polluted and contaminated Alang beach in an era when there was no environmental sensitivity must be undone. MEPC’s failure to address this problem and allow status quo will defeat the very purpose for which the committee has been constituted. Protection of the marine environment of these beaches is the fundamental reason for MEPC’s existence.
On these beaches vulnerable migrant workers break end-of-life ships amidst exposure from  hazardous materials like asbestos, persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals without any environmental and occupational health security. The International Labour Organization has classified shipbreaking on beaches to be the dirtiest, most degrading and dangerous job.
The role of IMO must be restricted till the ship remains a ship or a floating structure. Once it is no more a floating structure, the role of IMO should cease. Working at the yard should be addressed by ILO while handling of hazardous waste should be based on Basel Convention norms. It is critical of the treaty because it does not assign definite role to ship owners, builders, classification societies or suppliers. The only role prescribed for ship owners is to submit the inventory of hazardous materials. It does not prescribe remedy or precautions to be taken against environment damage resulting from ship recycling operations particularly of oil seepage.
Indeed if one compares the IMO treaty with the pre-existing regulations it is clear that the former is quite regressive and not forward looking. These regulations do not permit ships meant dismantling without gas-free for hot work. They do not exclude war ships and government vessels. The relaxation on these two issues in IMO regulations will act as a loophole to divert ships for recycling from regulated countries to non-regulated countries.
IMO’s callous towards the plight of the workers and is simply pandering to the whims and fancies of the ship owners from developed countries. It does not provide for prior decontamination of hazardous materials and wastes in the country of export. Notably, the Convention does not include directions that are mandatory for the protection of environmental and occupational health. Biodiversity of the marine environment and adverse impact on its ecological status has not been factored in the ongoing shipbreaking activity.
IMO’s treaty is essentially very status quoist is the manner in which beaches of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan is allowed to be contaminated just because the shipbreaking activity commenced in an era when environmental protection was not a priority. The shipbreaking activity to be truly sustainable must be taken off the beach and these beaches must be remediated and restored for posterity as is done in the developed world. The current practice of beaching method seems economically viable due to cost externalization of pollution and adverse health impact.
IMO is pretending ignorance about manifold increase in the pollution level on these beaches and disappearance of local biodiversity.
Hongkong Convention fails to address the four fatal flaws of the beaching method for ship breaking that is practiced in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan: cranes cannot be placed alongside ship, lack of access by emergency vehicles and equipment, no possibility for containment and coastal zone, intertidal zone is environmentally sensitive and managing hazardous wastes in the intertidal zone can never be environmentally sound.
It has been noted that in 2012, 70 percent of all end-of-life ships were broken in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India 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.
It has long been argued that shipbreaking can be done in a safe and clean way with proper technologies and infrastructure, and enforced regulations, most shipowners choose to sell their ships for significantly greater profit to substandard yards operating in countries without adequate resources to provide safeguards and infrastructure to manage the dangerous business.
IMO has failed to communicate categorically to the Marine Environment Protection Committee of IMO that Hongkong Ship Recycling Convention does not meet the bar of equivalent level of control and this backward step is unacceptable. Environmental health, Labour and human groups have been demanding remediation of these beaches of its toxic contamination because of ship-breaking activity to retrieve and protect the fragile coastal environmental and public health of communities and their livelihoods.
It is reliable learnt that even shipbreaking industry of India, Bangaldesh and Pakistan is opposed to this Convention shipbreaking/ship recycling because the draft IMO treaty has been prepared under the influence of the ship owners and ship owning countries designed to transfer the obligation of observing the entire regulations on ship recycling countries. 
TWA disapproves of the contention of Ajoy Chatterjee the former Chief Surveyor, Union Ministry of Shipping and Principal, The Great Eastern Institute of Maritime Studies. TWA wonders how dumping of hazardous end-of-life ships can become beneficial in the long run. Why should preparation of Inventory of Hazardous Material (IHM) await ratification of regressive Hongkong Convention?
Ajoy Chatterjee should explain how 102 end-of-life European ships that were broken on Alang beach in particular and on the beaches of Chittagong and Gadani is beneficial in the long run.  He should explain why 76 ships out of these 102 ships were registered under the Greek, Cypriot or Maltese flag. Is it in our national interest that they register under these flag?

TWA strongly rejects the reported statement of A.V. Shah, Regional Officer, Bhavnagar, Gujarat Pollution Control Board saying, “why asbestos should be considered hazardous since even today it is being extensively used for roofing, asphalt-asbestos floor tile, linoleum backing, ceiling tile, duct insulation for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and several other applications.”  The use of asbestos in new construction projects has been banned for health and safety reasons in some 55 countries including developed countries or regions, including the European Union, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and New Zealand. WHO and ILO has called for its elimination. 
TWA calls for dry docking facility in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan to safeguard coastal environment for the current generation and posterity. Environmental groups demand dry dock method in place of polluting beaching method for breaking/recycling the ships. The burden of creating dry docking facilities can be jointly shouldered by the beneficiaries like ship owners, shipbreakers, IMO and the governments concerned. Environmentally Safe Ship breaking/recycling cannot be carried out through the beaching method.  
TWA expresses its disagreement with the myopic views on continuing with the beaching method for ship breaking. It agrees with Praveen Nagarsheth, President, Iron Steel Scrap & Shipbreakers Association that India should not ratify Hong Kong Convention which does not address the local concerns.
At the Mumbai conference Nitin Kanakiya, Hon Secretary to Ship Recycling Industries Association (SRIA) claimed that “Alang is open to all, we invite all stakeholders to come and visit us. We have requested the authorities to allow all those who are interested to visit and check our facilities.” If this claim is indeed true then TWA calls on SRIA to proactively invite media persons and researchers to visit the most accident prone plots where ship breaking happens on the beach, show them the hospital that caters to the most vulnerable workforce in India and get the pollution level in the coastal environment examined by an independent body.

TWA calls for ban on international trade in hazardous wastes and disapproves of Hongkong Convention that attempts to undermine hard earned Basel Convention under the influence of seemingly ungovernable shipping industries.  
TWA disapproves of the European version of Hongkong Convention adopted by the European Council on June 27, 2013 under the influence of European shipping industry. European Parliament’s stature has been eroded by its approval of new EU Regulation on ship recycling. It has deprived itself of the opportunity to solve the environmental and occupational health crisis facing Alang, Bhavnagar, India, Chittagong, Bangladesh and Gadani, Pakistan. It has succumbed to those undemocratic institutions which remain addicted to externalizing environmental and human health costs to the shipbreaking beaches of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. These business enterprises have manipulated the legal and political system in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan to ensure that most European owned vessels broken on these beaches of South Asia by registering under non-EU flags such as Panama, Liberia and the Bahamas.
It may be noted that ship owners have been hoodwinking legal regimes in place by not declaring their intent to dispose the vessel whilst at a European port to avoid extra costs of using safe and environmentally sound ship recycling facilities.
The new EU Regulation’s pretensions of banning breaking of EU flagged ships on tidal beaches stands exposed as it does not provide for prevention of ship owners from jumping register to a non-EU flag prior to sending their ships for breaking in order to avoid falling under the requirements of the new EU law. Beaching sites will not be approved for EU listing, which prevents EU flagged ships from being beached. But by merely choosing to register their ships under non- EU flags.
There is nothing new in European Council’s acceptance of the European Parliament’s proposal to bind all ships calling at EU ports to have an inventory of hazardous materials (IHM) that are contained within the vessels’ structure, a prerequisite for clean and safe ship recycling. It could have easily have been done under the pre-existing laws.
TWA condemns efforts of the large shipping nations such as Greece, Malta, Cyprus who blocked measures for ensuring traceability of hazardous wastes dumped in developing countries and clearly linking liability for these wastes to the polluter, the shipowner to strengthen the European Regulation.
European Council’s exemption to end-of-life ships from the European Waste Shipment Regulation meant for protecting developing countries from the dumping of hazardous wastes and incorporating the UN’s Basel Convention and its Basel Ban Amendment is indeed a breach of the European Union’s legal obligations to uphold the Basel Convention and its Basel Ban Amendment compelling 27 European Member States that are Parties to the Basel Convention to accept the fait accompli of committing  illegality and of acting in non-compliance with their obligations under international law.
EU has ratified and implemented the UN laws into the national legislation of all EU Member States via the European Waste Shipment Regulation. The latter forbids the export of hazardous wastes from the EU to non-OECD countries. Article 29 of the law on ship recycling adopted yesterday removes hazardous waste ships from the scope of application of the European Waste Shipment Regulation. Pre-existing EU legal instruments were contrary to IMO’s Convention but the new one attempts to be in line with it despite manifest legal inconsistency.  
In such a scenario when EU is complicit in undermining Basel Convention proposed market-based solutions cannot make the shipping industry accountable. It has not worked in the past. It is bound fail. EU’s long held righteous stance for environmental and human rights which were cited to make developing countries emulate stands exposed.
This creates a need for trade unions, human rights and environmental groups of the North and South to join hands to oppose both the IMO’s Convention and the new EU Regulation.  
For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), New Delhi, Mb: 9818089660, Email:gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com, Web: www.toxicswatch.org


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