Mixed response to ship breaking convention

Human rights, labour and environmental organisations have denounced the UN International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) Convention on Ship Recycling, saying it will encourage the flow of toxic end-of-life ships to the impoverished beaches of Asia.

The convention, held last month in Hong Kong, was the first ever to focus on ship breaking.

Its aim was to ensure recycled ships do not pose risks to humans or the environment, while allowing the industry to thrive.

However, the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, a coalition of human rights and environmental groups, say the convention fails to put the onus of cleaning toxic materials on polluters before ships are sent to the breaking beaches.

Platform director Ingvild Jenssen said: “The convention legitimises the infamous breaking yards of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and actually rewards these exploitive operations while punishing those companies that have invested in safer and cleaner methods.”

Efthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary General of the IMO, said: “Ship recycling provides opportunities for employment and an economic and trading venture for tens of thousands of people, particularly in communities that are not among the wealthiest in the world.”

Currently 80% of the world’s fleet of end-of-life ships are broken on the beaches of Bangladesh, and the International Labour Organisation has called this one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Many ships contain asbestos, heavy metals, and PCBs and health and safety is often lax in the poorly-regulated yards.

Attended by delegates from 63 member states, the IMO heralded the convention a success.

New regulations will require an inventory to be made of hazardous materials on end-of-life ships, and specific recycling plans to be drawn up by ship recycling yards.

“I believe it is a good outcome in the circumstances”, Mr Mitropoulos said.

“As it has succeeded in putting in place international rules and standards to regulate, for the first time, a complex and multi-faceted issue.”

He adds the convention allows for future improvements, and he urged governments to put what is initially a voluntary agreement into force.

The Platform argues the convention fails to uphold the Basel Convention on the international hazardous waste trade.

It vowed to take the issue to the EU, which will propose ship recycling legislation this year.

Platform member and environmental lawyer Rizwana Hasan said: “When the workers and the environment of developing countries desperately needed a life ring, the IMO threw them useless paper.”

Laura Laker

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