EU Raises Ship Recycling Standards to Protect Workers, Environment

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 23, 2012 (ENS) – European ships must be recycled only in ship-breaking facilities that are safe for workers and environmentally sound, according to new rules proposed today by the European Commission.

More than 1,000 large old commercial ships, such as tankers and container vessels, are recycled for their scrap metal every year, but many European ships are broken by hand in substandard facilities on the tidal beaches of South Asia.

These facilities lack the environmental protection and safety measures needed to manage end-of-life ships that contain hazardous materials, such as asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, tributyl tin and oil sludge. High accident rates, health risks for workers and extensive environmental pollution are the results.

The new rules allow, under strict conditions, the recycling of EU-flagged ships in countries that are not members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The 34 members of the OECD include many of the world’s most advanced and also emerging countries, but do not include the countries of South Asia.

Ship recycling at Chittagong, Bangladesh (Photo by Ed Anger)

The new rules adopt the system of survey, certification and authorization required by the Hong Kong Convention, an international treaty for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships adopted in 2009.

The Commission aims to implement the Hong Kong Convention quickly, without waiting for its ratification and entry into force, a process which will take several years.

The Hong Kong Convention must be ratified by at least 15 major flag and recycling countries to enter into force. These countries should represent at least 40 percent of the world fleet and almost 50 percent of the recycling capacity available worldwide.

To speed its formal entry into force, the Commission also presented today a draft decision requiring the 27 EU Member States to ratify the Convention.

The new rules, which will take the form of a regulation, propose a system of survey, certification and authorization for large commercial seagoing vessels that fly the flag of an EU Member State, covering their whole life cycle from construction to operation and recycling.

European Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik presented the regulation jointly with Vice President Siim Kallas, Commissioner for Transport.

“Although the ship recycling sector has improved its practices, many facilities continue to operate under conditions that are dangerous and damaging,” Commissioner Potocnik said. “This proposal aims to ensure that our old ships are recycled in a way that respects the health of workers as well as the environment. It is a clear signal to invest urgently in upgrading recycling facilities.”

Under the new rules, European ships must draw up an inventory of the hazardous materials present on board, and apply for an inventory certificate. In addition, the amount of hazardous waste on board, including cargo residues and fuel oil, must be reduced before the ship is delivered to a recycling facility.

Ship recycling facilities will have to meet a set of environmental and safety requirements to be included on a list of authorized facilities worldwide. European ships will be allowed to be recycled only in facilities on the list.

Ship recycling workers in Chittagong, Bangladesh (Photo by Neil Ransom)

Some of the requirements to be met by the ship recycling facilities are even stricter than those required by the Hong Kong Convention to ensure better traceability for European ships, and environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes aboard.

To ensure compliance, the proposal requires ship owners to report to national authorities when they intend to send a ship for recycling. By comparing the list of ships for which they have issued an inventory certificate with the list of ships which have been recycled in authorized facilities, authorities will be able to spot illegal recycling more easily.

At present, the recycling of European ships is governed by the Waste Shipment Regulation of 2006, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste to countries that are not members of the OECD.

The existing legislation is not specifically designed for ships and is often circumvented, say the commissioners. They recognize a lack of adequate recycling capacity in OECD countries, but add that it is difficult to determine when a ship becomes waste and which country is exporting the ship.

In 2009, more than 90 percent of European ships were dismantled in ship recycling facilities in non-OECD countries, some of which were substandard.

The newly proposed rules aim to address the shortcomings of the Waste Shipment Regulation and to allow, under strict conditions, the recycling of EU-flagged ships in non-OECD countries.

The commissioners say the quantity of European end-of-life ships is significant, since 17 percent of world tonnage is registered under an EU flag. This makes it a priority for the EU to improve ship dismantling practices worldwide.

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