Norway has played a key role in the development of binding international legislation ship recycling and was the first country to address the problem of unacceptable conditions in the ship scrapping industry in the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 1999.
In 2009, the IMO adopted the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships. Its aim is to, as far as practicable, eliminate accidents, injuries and other unwanted health and environment effects from ship scrapping.
As the first country in the world, Norway ratified the Convention in June 2013. The Convention will enter into force 24 months after it has been ratified by 15 Member States or 40% of the IMO’s member tonnage.
The Convention is not expected to enter into force until 2020 at the earliest.
Facts about shipbreaking
The recycling of ship material is, in principle, environmentally friendly, but there are two major issues with the way scrapping is carried out today: poor working conditions and pollution.
High degree of recycling Most ships have a life expectancy of a few decades before wear and the need for expensive repairs make further operation unprofitable. Every year, between 600 and 700 ships are scrapped. In recent years there have been significantly more due to the phasing out of single-hull ships. In line with the massive growth of the shipping industry over the last five decades, an increasing number of ships are being constructed, which will be scrapped after they have done their job.
Ship scrapping and recycling mean that ship material is reused. This primarily applies to steel, but only a small percentage by weight of the large ship construction cannot be reused or repurposed. Virtually all parts of the hull, machinery and furniture on board are kept.
Contributing to sustainable development
Shipping is in many cases the most environmentally friendly way of transporting goods. Moreover, the fact that materials are recycled and reused after a ship has made its last voyage contributes to sustainable development. Millions of tons of steel are derived from the shipbreaking industry every year. In India, the recycled steel actually supplies 7% of the country’s steel demand. Melting of steel consumes only a third of the energy compared to that consumed during steel production. This means significantly lower fuel consumption and hazardous gas emissions. In a global perspective, shipbreaking is therefore an environmentally friendly industry that contributes to sustainable development.
Traditionally, ships were dismantled near the shipyards in Europe and North America where they were built, where this was a fairly advanced mechanical industry. However, as the industry became more global and the costs of maintaining a high environmental and safety standard increased, the industry was gradually moved to poor Asian countries.
Today, the largest shipbreaking countries are India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which account for more that 90 percent of the world’s ships. In addition, large-scale shipbreaking takes place in Turkey and China. These countries are well suited for this industry with empty ship yards, lots of cheap labour and shallow beaches with a large tidal difference where ships can be driven onto the beach. So far, there has also been poorly developed legislation and bad systems for monitoring environmental protection and the working environment.
Alang on the west coast of India has since 1983 developed into one of the world’s leading centres for shipbreaking. About half of all ships that are recycled are dismantled here. Large supertankers, car ferries and container ships are driven straight onto the beach at high tide and when the tide runs out, hundreds of workers start cutting the ships into small pieces.
Around 40,000 people are employed in the recycling yards in Alang. In Chittagong in Bangladesh, the conditions are largely the same, and close to 25,000 people work there.
Most of the ships dismantled today were built in the 1970s, that is prior to the banning of many hazardous materials. Ships that are to be dismantled may contain oil residues, environmental toxins, PCBs, asbestos and other hazardous waste. Even if every small piece that can be utilised is used, a small percentage by weight of a large tanker, bulk or passenger ship will amount to several tonnes of waste that is difficult and risky to handle. Without being treated or properly collected and stored, the toxic waste is discharged directly into the shipbreaking area. The result could be severe pollution of soils, rivers and streams as well as local coastal areas. The scrapping countries are inflicted with serious environmental problems that will last for a long time.
Poor working conditions
Workers in the shipbreaking industry are exposed to significant risks. To mention one, remnants of gas in the ship’s tanks or cargo holds can explode when cutting torches are used to part the wreck. Accidents happen every day, and many workers are injured or killed in explosions or hit by falling heavy steel plates. Many work without any kind of protective equipment. They literally take the ship apart with their bare hands.
There is also a significant risk of developing cancer as a result of inhaling asbestos dust, but this is actually more of a theoretical problem, since it takes time for cancer to develop. Many of these people live in such poor conditions that they die from other things before they get cancer. In some places, life expectancy is as low as 40 years.
Key source of income
On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that shipbreaking and ship recycling give poor countries an opportunity to obtain much-needed income and raw materials. Tens of thousands of jobs with good wages compared to the local standard give the local population the opportunity to feed themselves and their families. For such poor countries, shipbreaking represents an opportunity for trade and economic growth.
In the EU, work is underway to prepare a Regulation on ship recycling. The EU is currently developing a directive on ship recycling which contains proposals for a tightening of the Hong Kong Convention for EU/EEA countries, introducing an explicit ban on so-called “beaching” for EU/EEA registered tonnage. (“Beaching” implies that ships are driven onto shallow beaches at high tide and scrapped there.)
This will make it difficult to have EU/EEA-flagged ships dismantled at scrapping yards in India and Bangladesh if these countries do not change their legislation significantly. The Regulation has not been adopted, and changes must be expected.
The Hong Kong Convention
The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships (the Hong Kong Convention) aims to, as far as practicable, eliminate accidents, injuries and other adverse effects of shipbreaking on human health and the environment. The Convention lays down rules for ship design, construction, operation and preparation to facilitate safe and environmentally friendly recycling without compromising the ship’s operational safety and efficiency. The Convention shall also facilitate the safe and environmentally friendly operation of the scrapping yards and establish appropriate systems for enforcing the rules. This includes certification and reporting requirements.
Ships that are sent for recycling must have a certificate that provides an overview of hazardous materials on board. An appendix to the Convention provides an overview of the hazardous materials that are prohibited or have limited legality for use in shipyards, repair yards and ships participating in the Convention. Ships will need a preliminary inspection to verify the list of hazardous materials on board. There will be other inspections throughout the lifecycle of the ship and a final inspection before scrapping and recycling.
Scrapping yards will be required to present a plan for the scrapping of each ship specifying how it will be handled depending on the individual list of inventory. The parties must introduce efficient means to ensure that the scrapping yard under their jurisdiction complies with the requirements of the Convention.
Norway was the first country to address the problem of unacceptable conditions in the shipbreaking industry in the IMO.
The conditions in the shipbreaking industry were made known to the public in Norway through the media in the summer of 1998, after a visit by the newspaper Bergens Tidende to Alang in India and the beaches outside Chittagong in Bangladesh. They reported very poor working conditions. The report attracted a lot of attention, and both shipowners and the responsible authorities said that something had to be done to improve the conditions.
The Ministry of the Environment therefore requested the Norwegian Maritime Authority to make sure the topic was put on the agenda in the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). The topic was discussed for the first time at the MEPC’s 42nd meeting in the autumn of 1998, and was presented as a proposal for a separate agenda item at the following meeting in the spring of 1999 (MEPC 43).
Norway also raised the issue in the Basel Convention, which regulates the handling and export of hazardous waste internationally.
The process leading up to the Convention
In 2001, the industry itself took the initiative to develop ship recycling guidelines. (Industry Code of Practice on Ship Recycling)
From 2002 to 2004, the ILO (International Labour Organization), IMO and the Basel Convention prepared guidelines that looked at the most important processes in ship recycling; working conditions, the environment surrounding scrapping sites and the relationship between shipping and the recycling industry.
In 2003, the IMO Assembly adopted a resolution setting out the guidelines for ship recycling. The resolution called on the member states to follow the guidelines and report on their experience to the IMO.
However, voluntary guidelines will not be sufficient to ensure broad support and a level playing field, so further work was done to gain acceptance to develop binding rules under the auspices of the IMO.
In 2004, Norway took over the coordination responsibility for the correspondence group and the leadership responsibility for the working group in the IMO, and on 1 December 2005, the IMO’s 24th session adopted the assembly resolution A.981(24), instructing the MEPC to prepare a draft binding instrument. Norway presented a draft of a new convention on ship recycling at MEPC 54 in 2006, which was then further developed by the Committee.
The Convention on the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Hong Kong in 2009. It is therefore referred to as the Hong Kong Convention.
The Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships is comprehensive and imposes requirements on both ships, shipbreaking countries and scrapping yards.
For ships, the Convention has requirements that apply to the entire lifecycle of the ship, as well as requirements for ships that are being prepared for scrapping. One of the requirements is that a list must be kept of hazardous substances and materials on the ship. This list must state the locations and quantities. Ships shall also have certificates attesting that they meet the requirements of the Convention, both when in operation and being recycled.
An initial survey, a renewal survey, an additional survey (if significant changes that have implications for compliance with the Convention have been done to the ship), as well as a final survey are required before the ship is ready for recycling. The surveys are carried out by the flag state, but the certificates may also be subject to checks by other countries’ authorities through the port State control regime.
The Convention requires that ship recycling can only take place at scrapping yards in countries that are parties to the Convention and that are approved to handle all the substances that are found in the ship.
Prior to this, a ship recycling plan shall be prepared. This shall be prepared by the scrapping yard, but the Convention requires that the ship assists by providing the yard with all necessary information.
The scrapping yards must be approved for the purpose by their authorities, and one of the requirements is that plans be prepared to safeguard the environment and safety for the employees.
In addition to the Convention itself, a total of six sets of guidelines have been developed which deal with details in the scrapping process, details related to shipyard approval, details of surveys and issuance of certificates and guidelines on port State control.
The Convention will enter into force 24 months after it has been ratified by 15 Member States or 40% of the IMO’s member tonnage. In addition, the Convention has a requirement that aims to ensure sufficient scrapping capacity for the parties to the Convention when it enters into force.
The Convention will take effect for all ships of more than 500 gross tonnage registered in flag States which are parties to the Convention.
Providing increased safety for all
The international focus during the work on the Convention quickly led to afew improvements in the scrapping industry. The fact that working conditions have been under intense assessment and that accidents have been registered has led to change. In Alang, India, which is the world’s largest ship recycling centre, there has practically been a security revolution. Workers are no longer permitted to work without protective equipment and some training.
The Hong Kong Convention aims to take better care of nature, and the requirements for an overview of hazardous materials on board will make the working environment better both for the seafarers who are on board during the ship’s lifetime and for those who are recycling it.