Global marine group to decide on ship-breaking hazards

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), is meeting in London this week to discuss the dangers of ship-breaking and the export of hazardous waste.

Old ships sent to be scrapped should be treated as hazardous waste, say Greenpeace

Old ships sent to be scrapped should be treated as hazardous waste, say Greenpeace

The IMO, the UN agency with responsibility for the safety of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution, has come under pressure from groups such as Greenpeace, as well as the EU environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom, to introduce mandatory regulation regarding the issue of ship-breaking, or scrapping at the end of a ships life. see (related story).

Currently, large ships are sent to scrap yards in the developing world for breaking. These ships often contain substances such as asbestos, PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) and oils known to damage human health and the environment.

In addition the presence of other substances, such as fuel or gases, in tanks increases the risk of explosion and other accidents putting the safety of workers at risk.

Greenpeace has called on the IMO to enforce the decontamination of these ships prior to their export, as the developing world ship-yards they are sent to do not have the facilities, or legislation, to cope with them.

Frank Peterson, maritime campaigner for Greenpeace, told edie: “There is an international convention, the Basel Convention, which forbids the export of hazardous waste. Unfortunately, ship owners say it doesn’t apply to them.”

Under the Basel Convention ships would count as hazardous waste because of the dangerous materials they contain for normal operation. However, only voluntary agreements for compliance are being proposed in the IMO talks.

“The shipping industry recognises that this needs to be discussed, but the way they go about it will get us nowhere. We need properly enforced mandatory legislation,” Mr Peterson said.

However, a spokesperson for the IMO told edie that they could not change legislation so easily.

“The IMO works by consensus, so if only a minority want mandatory rules at this stage it is more likely that IMO will adopt recommendatory guidelines initially,” they said.

The spokesperson pointed out that a lot of the existing mandatory regulations, for example the International Safety Management Code (ISM), started off as voluntary guidelines and became mandatory only after members had time to implement them.


hazardous waste


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