Urgent need for change in ship recycling sector: 80% of ships scrapped on South Asian beaches
A total of 443 ocean-going commercial ships and offshore units were sold for scrapping in 2022, data from NGO Shipbreaking Platform shows.
Of these, 292 large tankers, bulkers, floating platforms, cargo- and passenger ships ended up for dirty and dangerous breaking on tidal beaches in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
The latest report from the platform shows that whilst the South Asian shipbreaking yards experienced the lowest turnover in over a decade, with a significant drop in terms of the number of ships scrapped, they remained the preferred destination for end-of-life vessels, dismantling 80% of the global end-of-life gross tonnage.
The reasons for the plunge in the number of vessels scrapped include high ocean freight rates that made it profitable to continue operating older vessels and banks’ shortages in providing credits to companies for the purchase of end-of-life assets identified as the main drivers.
The fact that 80% of ships are still being scrapped on South Asian beaches highlights the pressing need for change in the ship recycling industry. This statistic highlights the urgent need to transform the sector to more sustainable and safe methods of recycling ships.
Shipbreaking yards in the region are notorious for unsustainable and dangerous working conditions, which often result in injuries or even fatalities. These include fires and falling steel plates as well as exposure to toxic fumes and substances.
In 2022, at least 10 workers lost their lives and 33 workers suffered injuries when breaking apart vessels on the beach of Chattogram, Bangladesh. Local sources also reported three deaths in Alang, India, and three injuries in Gadani, Pakistan, according to NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
“Companies have a duty to eliminate the negative impacts that their commercial decisions have on the environment and people. End-of-life vessels are hazardous waste, and taking them apart on tidal beaches is by far the worst industrial practice”, says Ingvild Jenssen, Executive Director and Founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
The report shows that in 2022, the worst country dumper was China, with 28 ships sold for scrapping in South Asia, followed by Russia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and Greece with more than a dozen ships beached each.
NGO Shipbreaking Platform said that Berge Bulk was among the worst dumpers in 2022 reaching a total of 24 vessels beached in the last ten years. Brazil’s Petrobras and BW Offshore were also listed at the top for poor corporate practices with regard to shipbreaking.
Even though environmental and labour laws that regulate ship recycling exist, they are easily circumvented by ship owners. Scrap dealers 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.
More than half of the ships sold to South Asia in 2022 changed flag to one of the grey- and black-listed flags of Cameroon, Comoros, Palau, St Kitts & Nevis and Tanzania, often just weeks before hitting the beach. At least eight of these flag changes enabled ship owners to circumvent the EU Ship Recycling Regulation, the report shows.
In 2022, a total of 49 ships were dismantled in Aliağa, Turkey, a site where currently six EU-approved ship recycling yards are located. However, two facilities, Şimşekler and Işıksan, were removed from the EU List in 2022 due to their failure to comply with the requirements set in the EU Ship Recycling Regulation.
Looking ahead, the number of ships that will need to be dismantled is expected to surge. This is believed to be an opportunity for the ship recycling sector to transform in line with the growing focus on circularity and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.
Some forward-looking governments are developing policies to increase access to scrap steel for green steel production, coupling that with measures to encourage the development of sustainable ship recycling capacity.
For instance, the United Arab Emirates have adopted a “no-beaching” rule and aim to attract vessels for dismantling in dry docks. The European Union’s Green Deal is, on its side, pushing major steel companies to explore ways of integrating ship recycling in their production line.
“A just transition in the ship recycling sector is possible. Clean and safe solutions are already available, and innovations ranging from robotics to water-jet cutting technologies will not only ensure safer practices but also render sustainable ship recycling more cost-effective. We call upon ship owners, especially the large containership companies that will have many vessels to scrap in 2023, to support the shift away from the beaching yards,” says Jenssen.