NGO Shipbreaking demands EU action on ship recycling amid stark reality of 2023 figures

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform is calling for the extension of the EU Ship Recycling Regulation to include ownership in addition to the flag, after releasing the latest figures on global shipbreaking practices for 2023.

Image courtesy: NGO Shipbreaking Platform 2014

The data from the platform shows that out of the 446 ocean-going commercial ships and offshore units scrapped in 2023, some 85%, equaling 325 ships in total, were taken apart on a beach in Bangladesh, India, or Pakistan.

As informed, most vessels scrapped originally belonged to shipping companies in East Asia and Europe.

The yards in South Asia are characterized by poor safety and working conditions often resulting in explosions, injuries, release of toxic waste, and air and marine pollution.

Data from the platform indicates that in 2023, at least 6 workers lost their lives when breaking apart vessels on the beach of Chattogram, Bangladesh, and another 19 were severely injured. The incidents are often unreported, and there is no official monitoring of occupational diseases such as cancer.

The EU shipping sector is not being held accountable for safe and environmentally sound ship recycling. The number of ships with an EU flag at end-of-life is dwarfed by the amount of European tonnage beached in South Asia, and begs for the extension of the scope of the EU Ship Recycling Regulation to include ownership, not only flag,” says Benedetta Mantoan, Policy Officer at the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

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China has emerged as the ‘worst dumper’ in the report, with 59 of 71 ending up beached in Bangladesh. the NGO added that Hong Kong, UAE, Thailand, Greece, Russia and South Korea follow as the worst dumpers in 2023 with more than a dozen ships beached each.

NGO Shipbreaking Platform identified Swiss containership giant Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) as the 2023 worst corporate dumper adding that the company scrapped 14 of its old container ships in Alang, India.

It is beyond shameful for a company that makes billions of yearly profit to knowingly persist exploiting workers while turning a blind eye to the environmental degradation caused by beaching,” said Nicola Mulinaris, Senior Communication and Policy Advisor of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

Ironically, MSC recently committed to prevent known illegal exporters of waste use their ships to facilitate illegal waste trade. We call on MSC to make the same commitment with regards to their own toxic waste.”

The reports further added that Evergreen, Gearbulk, Green Reefers, Maersk, Sinokor, and Zodiac Group Monaco also sold their toxic assets for scrapping on South Asian beaches in 2023.

Decarbonization extends beyond ordering new ships

The data emerges as the global shipping industry readies for the entrance into force of the long-awaited Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships in 2025.

It also underscores the importance of retiring and recyclable obsolete vessels in a sustainable manner as part of the holistic approach to the decarbonization of shipping.

While investing in modern, eco-friendly ships is a proactive step, effectively addressing the carbon footprint requires the responsible retirement of older, less efficient counterparts.

Originating from a diplomatic conference in Hong Kong in 2009, the treaty underscores the imperative that ships, at the end of their operational lives, undergo recycling without posing risks to human health and the environment.

Embracing a comprehensive “cradle to grave” approach, the convention addresses all facets of ship recycling, emphasizing responsible waste management and disposal. All stakeholders, including shipowners, shipbuilding yards, and recycling facilities, are mandated with responsibilities under the treaty, ensuring a collective commitment to safe and environmentally sound practices.

With the convention’s enforcement, ships slated for recycling will be obligated to carry an Inventory of Hazardous Materials on board, reinforcing the global commitment to sustainable and responsible ship recycling practices.

The maritime industry has recently witnessed important steps towards the adoption of sustainable shipbreaking practices. Notably, Bangladesh, a major shipbreaking nation, recently ratified the Hong Kong Convention, signaling a commitment to implementing internationally recognized standards for responsible ship dismantling. This move signifies a crucial step towards ensuring safer working conditions for laborers and mitigating environmental hazards associated with shipbreaking activities.

The move was followed by Pakistan in December 2023.

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Furthermore, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken proactive measures to address environmental concerns in ship recycling by introducing comprehensive regulations aimed at curbing harmful practices and promoting responsible ship ownership.

The UAE Ship Recycling Regulation (UAE SRR) explicitly prohibits beaching and landing activities, emphasizing the need for high-standard recycling facilities.

Nevertheless, the enforcement of the Hong Kong Convention and multiple regulations addressing this issue remains a massive concern due to inadequate mechanisms for enforcement and upholding of labor rights, safe work practices, and curbing pollution.