NGO group says ship dumping in Southeast Asian beaches reaching crisis proportions

Publish date: February 5, 2013

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, an 18-NGO-consortium working against the dumping of ships along the coasts of Southeast Asian nations – where they are essentially left for scrap – has said 365 ships from EU nations are now rusting along the coasts of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Bellona’s Svend Søyland, who is also represents Bellona in the NGO Shipbreaking Platform has said that Bangladesh is by far the worst-hit nation. The coasts are littered with ships packed with toxins such as asbestos, oil and other substances that are highly hazardous to humans and the environment.

[picture1 {Liquid waste, much of it toxic, dumped from ships}]

According to current figures, of the 1308 ships that were broken among India, China, Bangladesh, Turkey, Pakistan, and other Southeast Asian nations in 2012, 822 where broken in environmentally dangerous conditions on beaches. In addition, 107 ships are unaccounted for but breakdown locations are most likely beaches.

Of particular concern in Bangladesh are the droves of unskilled workers – many of them children – who work to dismantle the rusting hulks sent them by the European Union.

[picture2 {Workers, many unskilled, and lacking in protective gear, working to dismantle beached EU ships} right]

A majority of these ship breaking companies in Southeast Asia are suspected of having phony green certificates, and nearly non of them have the correct environmental safety gear for workers that dismantle them, Søyland said. 

[picture3 {Cables and asbestos ripped out of ships and cast on beaches}]

The center of the problem is that EU ship owners sell unwanted, decrepit ships to international middle-man organizations who then haul them to the cheapest possible locales – a situation that encourages ship owners to dump their vessels with no further thought to their environmental disposition.

Bellona, in cooperation with the Shipbreaking platform, has identified 19 countries within the EU that engage in this practice, with the biggest offenders being Germany, Greece and Norway.

Germany ship owners have fobbed off some 39 ships on Southeast Asian shores, Norway 37 and Greece a whopping 174.

This would never be accepted on beaches in Europe, said, Patrizia Heidegger, head of the NGO Shipbreaking Plaform.

Using registers in maritime bases, the organizations traced ships on Southeast Asian beaches that have been sold to local shipbreaking firms. Several of the vessels, including those sent from Norway, changed owner, flag and name.

The prices ship owners can get for vessels in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, are higher than if they had been to companies using internationally certified drydock shipbreaking facilities. 100 dollar extra per ton adds up.

Several of the companies in India and Pakistan and ship owners supply green certificates and claim to be ISO-certified to prove that the ships are broken down in an environmentally and professional responsible manner.

But  Heidegger, doesn’t buy these certificates.

“[The green certificates are] a new trend, but it’s nonsense,” she told Aftenposten. “It is unclear who is issuing those certificates and who checks that they are something more than just paper.”

Good money, however, is to be made by contravening these facilities – the London-based Star Reefers, owned by Norwegian tycoon Kristian Siem, last year sold six of its vessels for some $6 million, the Norwegian daily Aftenposten reported.

[picture4 {More junked ship waste on Asian beaches.}]

A closer look at the claimed ISO certificates show they often cover manangement systems (ISO 9001), voluntary rather than fixed environmental standard (ISO 14001) and Occupational Health and Safety Management systems to develop policies (OHSAS 18001). None of these are directly related to the working and environental conditions relevant breaking of ships, said Søyland.

A representative of Frontline – the world biggest oil tanker operator, owned by the Norwegian billionaire John Frederiksen – complained to Aftenposten that, once a ship is sold off, it is no longer his company’s business what happens to it.

“It is not we who scrape the vessels,” Jensen told the paper. “It’s the ones we sell to, or anyone else. We can not control what happens when the ships are no longer ours. Sustainable scrapping of course has our full support, as far as is possible.”

Vice President Eystein Eriksrud in Siem Industries, part-owner of Star Reefers, told the newspaper that the company sold two of the ships to a shipyard in Turkey, which guaranteed that they would be scrapped properly.

But Søyland  was quick to point out that, “Five ships from Star Reefers sent for shipbreaking on the beaches in Asia outnumber those two. We would welcome a full transfer of all ships to more responsible scrappers within OECD-countries.”

Norwegian ship owner Odfjell insists it receies various certifications for the ships it sells for breaking and a so-called “green-passport” from the breaking yards they use, according to the company’s communications director, Margrethe Gudbrandsen.

Bellona’s Søyland said that, “These so-called Green Certificates were issued by dubious players and quite often set limits on the overall climate impact,” adding that, “The main issue of concern is the release of toxic substances and an extremely dangerous working environment.”

“If ships were wrecked on a beach in Norway, these companies would quickly be brought to court for environmental crimes,” he said. “They shout vociferously about their environmental and social responsibility on their homepages while dumping old ships on beaches in other countries. It is irresponsible and constitutes a double standard.”

But the Norwegian Shipowners association (NSA) believes there is currently little to be done as far as its country’s vessels are concerned because Norway has not signed onto the most important international agreement on government shipbreaking, the 2009 Hong-Kong convention.

Unfortunately, the Hong Kong Convention is a political compromise drafted to allow countries involved in shipbreaking. Once ratified it will not put an end to shipbreaking on beaches.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is currently putting the finishing touches on guidelines for safe, environmentally sound shipbreaking. Controlling compliance and undertaking inspections of these guidelines will be the responsibility of national entities.

The Bellona Foundation fears that powerful, well-heeled shipbreakers will be able to turn such oversight into a mere paper chase.

And the NSA itself told Aftenposten that shipbreaking facilities it has visited are in reprehensible condition.

Joining the Hong Kong Convention would mean for Norway and other signatory nations that a ship must be washed before scrapping as well as providing documents on the toxic waste on board, allowing those who scrap ships to have more control over what they are taking on.

But, in many cases, cleaning a ship also means making a ship unsailable and unable to reach dismantlement points, said Bellona’s Søyland.

And just because a ship owner belongs to the NSA is no guarantee it will follow guidelines and regulations.

Odfjell, for instance, had seven tankers it owned turn up last year on a beach in India, Aftenposten reported.

Hanna Lee Behrens, director of security, safety and innovation of the NSA said that though the NSA contacts members responsible for such dumping practices, there is not much more beyond that it can do to assure environmentally safe disposal of the junked ships.

For a complete list of Norwegian ships currently junked on Southeast Asian beaches, click here.

Svend Søyland contributed to this report.

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