NGO: Shipowners continue to avoid green ship recycling

Although they exist, environmental and labour laws that regulate ship recycling are still ignored by shipowners that continue to send their vessels to dirty scrapyards in South Asia.

Illustration; Image courtesy: NGO Shipbreaking Platform 2013

According to new data released on 2 February 2021 by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a total of 630 ocean-going commercial ships and offshore units were sold to the scrapyards in 2020.

Of these vessels, 446 large tankers, bulkers, floating platforms, cargo- and passenger ships were broken down on three beaches in South Asia, amounting to nearly 90 per cent of the gross tonnage dismantled globally. 

2020 shipbreaking records. Image Courtesy: NGO Shipbreaking Platform

The situation has not much improved since 2019 when 469 of a total of 674 vessels and offshore units were broken down on only three beaches in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

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Ships are considered hazardous waste under international environmental law as they contain many toxic materials and substances within their structures, and onboard as residues. These toxics need to be managed in a safe and environmentally sound manner. Their export from developed to developing countries is banned by UNEP’s Basel Convention.

On the beaches of Alang in India, Chattogram in Bangladesh, and Gadani in Pakistan, where near 90% of the global world tonnage was scrapped in 2020, the negative consequences of shipbreaking are real and felt by many. Workers – often exploited migrants, some of them children – are exposed to immense risks. They are killed or seriously injured by fires and falling steel plates, and sickened by exposure to toxic fumes and substances. Coastal biomes, and the local communities depending on them, are devastated by toxic spills and air pollution due to the lack of infrastructure to contain, properly manage and dispose of the many hazardous materials embedded in the ships.

It is a scandal that laws and standards aimed at protecting people and the environment are ignored when scrapping the near totality of the global fleet. Governments, the clients, financiers and insurers of shipping, as well as the employees of shipping, need to take a much stronger stance against this exploitation of vulnerable communities and fragile ecosystems,Ingvild Jenssen, Executive Director and Founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, stressed.

Last year, at least 10 workers lost their lives when breaking apart vessels in Bangladesh. At least another 14 were severely injured. Despite repeated attempts to obtain official statistics, no information on accidents at the Indian and Pakistani yards has been made available. The sector suffers from a serious lack of transparency, and it is expected that many accidents go unreported. Many more workers suffer from cancers and other occupational diseases.

The worst dumpers in 2020

Greece tops the list of country dumper in 2020. Greek owners sold 48 ships for scrapping in total, most of which were beached in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Whilst some EU Member States are increasingly cracking down on environmental crime, almost a quarter of the tonnage broken in South Asia was owned by European shipping companies. Greece in particular has systematically closed its eyes to the deplorable end-of-life track record of its shipping industry,” Jenssen said.

What is more, the ‘worst corporate dumper’ prize goes to South Korean company Polaris Shipping. Under pressure following serious incidents on the Stellar Daisy, which sank in the Atlantic with the loss of 22 lives in 2017, and on the Stellar Banner, which was scuttled off the coast of Brazil in June, Polaris Shipping scrapped 11 of its carriers in 2020. All units were beached in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Four major accidents, causing the death of one worker, occurred during the dismantling of Polaris’ vessels in Chattogram.
Another South Korean company, Sinokor, is runner-up for worst corporate practice, NGO Shipbreaking Platform said. Sinokor sold four vessels for scrapping in Bangladesh last year. On 24 March, two brothers died due to toxic gas inhalation while working in the engine room of the tanker West Energy at Kabir Steel’s Khawja shipbreaking yard.
Brazilian state-owned company Petrobras comes third for worst corporate practice. Three years have passed since civil society organisations and trade unions urged the Brazilian government to stop the dumping of toxic ships on South Asian beaches. Yet, oil giant Petrobras dumped nine of its old tankers in South Asia last year alone. The units were auctioned off to cash buyers.
Berge Bulk, Costamare, Eurobulk, Evergreen, K-Line, Maersk, Swire & Sons, and Teekay are other well-known shipping companies that dumped their toxic ships on South Asian beaches in 2020, NGO Shipbreaking Platform further said.

Laws governing ship recycling are easily circumvented by shipowners, often with the aid of cash buyers. These pay the highest price for end-of-life vessels and typically re-name, re-register and re-flag the vessels on their last voyage to the beaching yards.

Almost half of the ships sold to South Asia in 2020 changed flag to one of the black-listed flags Comoros, Palau and St Kitts & Nevis just weeks before hitting the beach. At least 14 of these flag changes enabled ship owners to circumvent the EU Ship Recycling Regulation.

“Whist European shipping companies own 40% of the world fleet, only 5% of end-of-life ships were registered under an EU/EFTA flag in 2020. Flags known for their poor implementation of maritime law have always been particularly popular at end-of-life. Ship owners hiding behind anonymous post box companies set up by cash buyers and backed by blacklisted flag registries is a reality that begs for the introduction and enforcement of measures that effectively hold the real beneficial owners of the vessels responsible,” Jenssen continued.

The best ship recycling practices

 Due to the pandemic, the cruise shipping sector has been forced to downsize, with many ship owners, such as Carnival Corporation and Pullmantur, taking steps to reduce operating expenses, including the retirement of relatively young vessels.

Carnival Corporation receives the 2020 award for best ship recycling practice. Leading by example, the American cruise shipping giant sets a standard the remaining of the cruise and shipping sector can follow.
Our highest responsibility and top priorities are to be in compliance everywhere we operate in the world, to protect the environment and the health, safety and well-being of our guests, the people in the communities we visit and our shipboard and shoreside employees. This commitment holds true for every stage of the life and retirement cycle for each of our ships,” Carnival Corporation’s spokesperson said.

Clean and safe solutions are already available. Less than a million Light Displacement Tonnes (LDT) were recorded recycled in EU-approved facilities in 2020, which represent a minor fraction of what these yards are able to handle.

We applaud companies, such as Carnival Corporation, that have a responsible policy for the recycling of their vessels ‘off the beach’. Now, we call upon policy makers to adopt effective measures, such as a return-scheme for ships, that will incentivise more owners to recycle their assets in a sustainable manner,” Nicola Mulinaris, Communication and Policy Officer at the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, concluded.