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Why the IMO Ship Recycling Convention is a Failure

Written By mediavigil on Monday, May 11, 2009 | 5:43 AM

In the week of May 11-15 in Hong Kong, a new international treaty is expected to be adopted and signed. That treaty, created under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization, was meant to address the international shipbreaking crisis defined by:

• the environmental injustice of the worlds poorest communities and countries bearing a disproportionate burden from the hazardous waste, pollution, and other risks and harm posed by shipbreaking;
• the lack of producer/ship owner responsibility to internalize the costs of such risks;
• the disastrous waste management practices commonly employed in today’s largest shipbreaking yards, such as the practice of “beaching” – a method that endangers life, limb and the environment; and
• the lack of green, toxic-free design in the shipbuilding industry that would more appropriately eliminate the use of harmful substances and make ships more safely recyclable.

Despite repeated proposals over the last three years from civil society and labor organizations for treaty language that would address these prime facets of the shipbreaking crisis, the Convention now drafted fails on all counts.

Environmental Injustice – Unlike the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban Amendment’s principled stand of protecting developing countries from economically motivated dumping of hazardous wastes on their territories, and despite the request from the Basel Convention Parties to ensure an “equivalent level of control” to that required by the Basel Convention, the IMO Convention was designed without even the most basic of Basel Convention obligations in place (e.g. “state-to-state notification and consent prior to export, right of port states to prevent export/import, obligation to create recycling facilities nationally, obligation to minimize transboundary movement of wastes etc.)

Producer Irresponsibility – Despite widespread acceptance in most industrial sectors today for application of the “Polluter Pays” principle and “Extended Producer Responsibility” in order to internalize the costs and liabilities inherent in a ship, the IMO Convention only requires ship owners to conduct and maintain an inventory of hazardous substances onboard ships and to notify their flag state when a ship is ready for recycling. Despite shipowners benefitting economically from the life cycle of a ship, at the end of its useful life, the Convention gives shipowners a free ride to pass on the liabilities of the toxic materials to impoverished communities and developing countries. It is a passport to cost externalization and human exploitation.

Disastrous Waste Management Practices Condoned – One would think that the most obvious improvements a new treaty would demand would be mandatory technological criteria for safe and environmentally sound recycling of old ships. The fulfillment of these requirements would best be enforced via third party audited certification programs to ensure a level playing field globally for all ship recycling countries. But the IMO Convention has only made recommendations via guidelines for improving conditions in the shipyards and worst; the guidelines fail to condemn the practice of running old ships up on beaches and cutting into them on the sands. The beaching method provides no containment for pollutants and no solid footing or access for lifting cranes or emergency equipment. Finally, the Convention has nothing to say at all about the waste management operations downstream of the immediate ship recycling yard. This head in the sand approach can allow for horrific management of asbestos, PCB contaminated materials and other hazardous wastes.

No Mandate for Greening Design – Despite a mention of the substitution principle in the preamble to the Convention, there is any later reference to this principle, nor a requirement based on it, for a constant review of harmful substances used on ships with a view to substituting them with less harmful substances where possible. There are also no mandates to otherwise construct ships to make them easier and more safely dismantled.

The fact that the IMO Convention fails to address the most pressing problems with shipbreaking today, but rather consists only of bureaucratic mechanisms confined to identifying hazardous substances on a ship, and requiring countries to authorize their shipbreaking facilities, means that the Convention will do nothing to prevent the disproportionate dumping of toxic waste ships on developing countries and little to change the horrific status quo of 90% of today’s deadly and polluting shipbreaking operations. It stands as an exercise designed to give pretense to dealing with the exploitive conditions, while continuing to allow the shipping industry to profit from their continuance.



New ship recycling convention set for adoption at Hong Kong Conference

Preview: International Conference on the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, Hong Kong, China, 11-15 May 2009

A new international convention on ship recycling is to be considered for adoption at a diplomatic conference to be held in Hong Kong, China, from 11 to 15 May 2009. The new convention is aimed at ensuring that ships when they are being recycled, after reaching the end of their operational lives, do not pose any unnecessary risk to human health and safety and the environment.

The draft International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships has been developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution from ships.

The new convention intends to address all the issues around ship recycling, including the fact that ships sold for scrapping may contain environmentally hazardous substances such as asbestos, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, ozone-depleting substances and others. It will address concerns raised about the working and environmental conditions at many of the world's ship recycling locations.

The draft text of the proposed ship recycling convention has been developed over the past three years, with input from IMO Member States and relevant industry organizations, and in co-operation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Parties of the Basel Convention (BC). The draft was approved by IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), when it met for its 58th session at the Organization's London headquarters in October 2008.

Regulations in the new convention will cover: the design, construction, operation and preparation of ships so as to facilitate safe and environmentally sound recycling, without compromising the safety and operational efficiency of ships; the operation of ship recycling facilities in a safe and environmentally sound manner; and the establishment of an appropriate enforcement mechanism for ship recycling, incorporating certification and reporting requirements.

Ships to be sent for recycling will be required to carry an inventory of hazardous materials, which will be specific to each ship. An appendix to the convention will provide a list of hazardous materials the installation or use of which is prohibited or restricted in shipyards, ship repair yards, and ships of Parties to the convention. Ships will be required to have an initial survey to verify the inventory of hazardous materials, additional surveys during the life of the ship, and a final survey prior to recycling.

Ship recycling yards will be required to provide a "Ship Recycling Plan", to specify the manner in which each ship will be recycled, depending on its particulars and its inventory. Parties will be required to take effective measures to ensure that ship recycling facilities under their jurisdiction comply with the convention.

A series of guidelines are being developed to assist in the convention's implementation.

The entry-into-force criteria for the convention (number of States and percentage of gross merchant shipping tonnage required) will be decided by the conference.

IMO's role in the recycling of ships

IMO's role in the recycling of ships, the terminology used to refer to ship scrapping, was first raised at the 44th MEPC session in March 2000, following which a correspondence group was established to research the issue and provide a range of information about current ship recycling practices and suggestions on the role of IMO. Guidelines on ship recycling were developed by the MEPC and finalized at the Committee's 49th session in July 2003, before being adopted by the 23rd IMO Assembly in November-December 2003.

At its 53rd session in July 2005, the MEPC agreed that IMO should develop, as a high priority, a new instrument on recycling of ships with a view to providing legally binding and globally applicable ship recycling regulations for international shipping and for recycling facilities. The IMO Assembly, in 2005, subsequently agreed that IMO should develop the new legally-binding instrument on ship recycling.

Ship recycling statistics

The main ship recycling countries are Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey.

The number of ships recycled each year is variable and ship recycling appears to be cyclical in nature. In recent years, the average age of recycled ships rose to around 32 years in the early 2000s, from around 26-27 years old in the 1990s. The low volume and high average age of recycled ships in recent times was explained, to a great extent, by the particularly buoyant state of the freight market in most shipping sectors up to 2008.

However, it is not thought that shipping markets alone drive recycling prices, or the volumes of recycling. The large price differentials that exist between different recycling markets are thought to reflect not only differences in labour and environmental compliance costs for recycling ships but, principally, differences in internal demand for ship steel and, consequently, the price obtained by the recyclers in each different economy.

Briefing 17, 7 May 2009

For further information please contact:
Lee Adamson, Head, Public Information Services on 020 7587 3153 (media@imo.org) or
Natasha Brown, External Relations Officer on 020 7587 3274 (media@imo.org).
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