Shipbreaking in full swing in South Asia despite COVID-19

There were a total of 170 ships broken in the third quarter of 2020. Of these, 65% or 110 ships were sold to the beaches of South Asia, according to the latest quarterly report released by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

Shipbreaking activities continued to put workers’ lives at risk despite several South Asian yards being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NGO said.

Between July and September, at least four workers were severely injured and one worker lost his life in Bangladesh.

In the third quarter of 2020, Greek ship owners sold the most ships to South Asian yards, closely followed by Japanese, Russian and South Korean owners. South Korean company Polaris Shipping sold another two vessels to Pakistan. The shipowner, which scuttled the ore carrier Stellar Banner off the coast of Brazil, has sold a total of seven ships for dirty and dangerous breaking in Bangladesh and Pakistan this year.

In April, the NGO urged Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to halt the import of a highly toxic offshore unit that had illegally departed from Indonesia. The floating storage and offloading (FSO) tanker J. Nat (renamed Radiant) left Indonesian waters despite local activists having warned Indonesian authorities about the toxicity of the vessel. Following NGO’s actions, the government of Bangladesh directed all departments concerned not to allow the ship to enter Bangladeshi territory. Similarly, Indian authorities have recently warned Alang shipbreaking yards not to accept the toxic tanker for scrapping. Maritime sources now indicate that the vessel is sailing towards Gadani, Pakistan.

Flag change and circumventing EU rules

Almost one-third of the ships sold to South Asia in Q3 changed flag to the registries of Comoros, Gabon, Palau and St. Kitts and Nevis just weeks before hitting the beach.

As explained, these flags are not typically used during the operational life of ships and offer ‘last voyage registration’ discounts. They are particularly popular with the middlemen scrap-dealers that purchase vessels cash from ship owners, and are grey- and black-listed due to their poor implementation of international maritime law.

The high number of flag changes at end-of-life seriously compromises the effectiveness of legislation based on flag state jurisdiction only, such as the European Union (EU) Ship Recycling Regulation. The platform recorded at least seven ships that de-registered from a European flag registry prior the last voyage to South Asia in order to circumvent EU legislation.

The export of one of these ships also breached the Basel Convention’s Ban Amendment, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste, including end-of-life vessels, from the OECD, the EU and Liechtenstein to other countries. The RoRo cargo ship Zeran, owned by Polish Ocean Lines, swapped its Maltese flag to that of Panama and illegally left Turkish waters at the end of July. It was beached in Bangladesh in September, according to the NGO.

What is more, investigations have been launched by authorities in Iceland following the illegal export of two container vessels owned by Icelandic company Eimskip to India.

Icelandic program Kveikur released a documentary on the sale of the two ships.

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Eimskip later denied involvement in the sale of its former two containerships to an unapproved scrapyard in India.