The European Commission has presented an EU strategy to make the dismantling of old ships safer for workers and the environment. Every year between 200 and 600 large merchant ships are taken apart for their valuable scrap metal. Many ships taken out of service in Europe end up being dismantled on beaches in South Asia. A lack of environmental protection and safety measures results in high accident rates, health risks and extensive pollution of wide stretches of the coast.
The number of dismantling sites in the European Union has fallen over the last 20 years and there is no longer sufficient capacity to process the large merchant fleets operating under EU flags or owned by companies in the EU. Today ship dismantling takes place largely in South Asia – mainly in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The industry provides thousands of jobs, but health and safety conditions are poor. Older ships contain many hazardous materials, including asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and large quantities of oil.
The problem of ship dismantling is expected to get worse: the dismantling of single-hull oil tankers is predicted to peak in the next few years as they are phased out in favour of safer double-hulled vessels. Around 800 such tankers are expected to be taken out of service.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is preparing an international convention on safe ship recycling, which will be globally binding. The Convention aims to provide a comprehensive system of control and enforcement “from cradle to grave” and relies in particular on the survey and certification of ships and the authorisation of ship recycling facilities. Although final negotiations are due to be completed in May 2009, the IMO Convention is not expected to enter into force before 2015.
The EU strategy proposes a number of measures to improve ship dismantling conditions as soon as possible, including in the interim period before the entry into force of the IMO Convention:
- starting preparations for establishing measures on key elements of the convention, such as those on surveys, certification and inventory of hazardous materials on board, as soon as possible after its adoption;
- encouraging voluntary industry action through measures such as awards for exemplary green recycling; publication of guidance, such as a list of 'clean' ship dismantling facilities;
- technical assistance and support to developing countries for safety training programmes and basic infrastructure for environmental and health protection;
- better enforcement of current waste shipment rules such as more checks at European ports; more cooperation and information exchange between EU authorities; and establishing a list of ships that are ready for scrapping