Ship scrapping meeting condemned as dumping as usual

Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network have accused the shipping industry of hijacking a UN joint working group meeting on ship scrapping, saying that all attempts to end the practice of sending end-of-life ships to developing countries for dismantling, risking the life of workers in those countries, were blocked by vested interests.

The joint working group on ship-scrapping was established by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the Conference to the Parties to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous wastes and their Disposal. It was designed to address the issue of end of life ships being transported to developing nations which do not have the facilities for dealing with their dismantling or disposal (see related story).

The joint group has agreed to work toward a future international legally binding instrument, but said that, due to the complexity of the matter, it would not be able to agree on this after just one meeting. Instead, the group looked at the guidelines each party had produced on the issue and said they should consider translating those guidelines into the working languages of the main ship-scrapping states. It also agreed to invite the ship-scrapping states to make point-of-contact details for the competent authorities responsible for issues related to ship scrapping publicly available and to invite governments and all involved stakeholders to provide information to the three organisations.

"The meeting could be called a victory for 'dumping-as-usual', and a source of temporary satisfaction for a shipping industry that does not wish to change its ways, and for those states that support this irresponsible industry - most notably Norway, Japan and Greece," said Kevin Stairs of Greenpeace International. "But, for sustainable development, for environmental justice, for producer responsibility, for the spirit of cooperation, for even beginning to actually reduce the flows of toxic waste to the poorest communities on Earth, it was a total failure."

End of life ships were re-classified as toxic waste in November last year (see related story) due to the chemicals they contain, and, as such, should be banned from export to developing countries under the rules of the Basel Convention.

Despite this, the pressure groups claimed that, among the 'missed opportunities', the meeting:

  • Refused to recognise international law and resulting case law forbidding the export of toxic ships;
  • Proposed nothing that would lead to ships being dismantled in developed countries rather than developing ones;
  • Failed to provide direction for investors to promote pre-cleaning and shipbreaking facilities;
  • Refused to recommend a global ship recycling fund based on the producer responsibility principle; and
  • Failed to discuss the human rights aspects of the meeting.

    In addition, the groups say that ship owners were given voting power on the committee while NGOs were prevented from participating as members.

    Instead of a spirit of cooperation, we got an ugly power play from one of the most powerful industries in the world," said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network.

    The second session of the joint working group will be hosted by the Basel Convention in Geneva, either in December 2005 or January 2006.

    The pressure groups say it is imperative to reach a solution to this problem soon due to the number of ships which will soon be up for scrapping when the EU ban on single hull tankers comes in (see related story).

    By David Hopkins

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