Globally, ship owners continued to profit from dangerous and dirty shipbreaking practices on South Asian beaches in 2015, according to new data released today by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
The organisation said despite calls from industry leaders and human rights and environmental organisations, of the 768 large ocean-going vessels scrapped last year, 469 were broken on the beaches of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where shipbreaking yards do not provide fundamental labour rights, ignore international waste trade law, and fail to respect international environmental protection standards.
The NGO highlighted one of many accidents that killed or maimed shipbreaking workers last year - a major gas explosion at Shitol Enterprise, a shipbreaking yard in Bangladesh. A gas cylinder was said to have burst and killed four workers immediately and severely injured another four.
The vessel in which the incident occurred was said to have been sold to Shitol Enterprise by the Greek shipping company Universal Ship Management Corporation, and sailed under the flag of St. Kitts and Nevis, a typical low-cost, end-of-life flag of convenience.
According to Shipbreaking Platform, Greek owners by far outstripped ship owners of other nationalities by having sold the most end-of-life vessels to dirty and dangerous shipbreaking sites in South Asia, and for the first time in many years, Bangladesh was the world’s number one destination for scrap ships.
Worst of the Worst
The NGO said that the “worst dumper prize” for 2015 goes to Idan Ofer, son of shipping magnate Sammy Ofer. Idan Ofer owns QUANTUM PACIFIC GROUP and has a controlling stake in Israel’s largest publicly traded company, ISRAEL CORPORATION.
Combined, these shipping companies were said to have sold the highest number of vessels into substandard breaking operations in 2015: nine in total, with six of them going to Bangladesh, where conditions are known to be worst.
Greek ship owners were found to have sold the most ships to South Asian shipbreaking yards in 2015, with 87 ships in total. Since the NGO started to compile data on world-wide ship dismantling practices in 2009, it said that Greek shipping companies have unceasingly topped the list of owners that opt for dirty and dangerous shipbreaking.
Backed by the Greek government, the NGO said that these companies continue to refuse liability for the damage done to workers and the environment in South Asia.
But according to Shipbreaking Platform while Greece may be the worst offending country, it is far from alone. Despite being part of several sustainable shipping initiatives and boosting environmentally friendly technologies on-board operational ships, well-known South Korean shipping companies such as HYUNDAI and HANJIN; Taiwanese container giant EVERGREEN; and Japanese companies including MOL, K-LINE and the TOYOTA owned TOYOFUJI were all reported to have sold vessels for breaking in Bangladesh in clear contradiction of their own company values and standards.
According to the data South Korean firms sold 27 ships exclusively to South Asia, mostly to Bangladesh. Japanese owners where also said to have sold exclusively to South Asia, many to Bangladesh.
The NGO also called out German shipping company NORDDEUTSCHE VERMÖGEN, which it said sold three vessels to the beaches of India and Bangladesh – the Northern Glance, the Northern Diversity and the Northern Vitality. The latter had been arrested in the port of Wilhelmshaven in Germany in 2012 to prevent an imminent illegal export to India.
Despite awareness of the poor conditions at the South Asian shipbreaking yards, Shipbreaking Platform claimed that NORDDEUTSCHE VERMÖGEN did not care about their vessels hitting the beaches, one of which went to Bangladesh – no lesson learnt. (See Shipbreaking Platform’s latest blog-post on the case here)
Polish government-owned POLSTEAM also drew the wrath for selling ships to Bangladesh and Pakistan – and refusing to take responsibility for its own actions following an alert sent by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. Worse, the Polish government has likewise not acted.
A Leopard and its Spots?
“Despite a lot of international attention on the problems of shipbreaking on the beaches of South Asia, the statistics for 2015 show that the vast majority of ship owners have not changed their practice for the better. On the contrary, most have opted for one of the worst shipbreaking destination in the world – Bangladesh, where children are still illegally exploited to break ships manually on tidal mudflats”, said Patrizia Heidegger, NGO Shipbreaking Platform Director.
According to the organisation ship owners sell their vessels to South Asian yards via cash-buyers, companies that specialise in the trade of end-of-life tonnage.
Cash-buyers promise ship owners not only the highest price, but also to rid them of their responsibility to properly deal with the end-of-life management of their ships.
The NGO explained that ships contain large amounts of toxic materials such as oil sludge, asbestos and paints laden with heavy metals and would yield less profit at end-of-life if sold to a recycling facility that firmly follows environmental and occupational health and safety standards.
Hope for the future
According to Shipbreaking Platform one sign of hope, is a group of leading ship owners that have vowed to take responsibility for clean and safe end-of-life management and demonstrate that alternatives are available.
It also noted that the European Union is expected to publish a list of approved ship recycling facilities worldwide by the end of 2016. This will satisfy the call from those that demand better practices, including investors such as ABN-Amro and cargo owners such as H&M, Stora Enso and Phillips – none of whom wish to be associated with polluting and harmful end-of-life management of old ships.
While, only vessels sailing under an EU flag will be legally obliged to use an EU approved recycling facility, any ship owner can nevertheless opt for an EU approved facility for its non-EU flagged ships on a voluntary basis.
Shipbreaking Platform therefore demanded that shipping companies and their investors only allow their vessels to go to yards listed on the EU list.
Moreover, it called on governments of the world’s leading maritime nations, such as Greece and Germany, to likewise take steps to ensure national use of the EU list.
According to the NGO, introducing a financial incentive based on the polluter pays principle would go a far way in pushing irresponsible ship owners towards sustainable ship recycling.
For detailed figures and analysis on ships dismantled in 2015, click here.
For background information on global ship dismantling practices, click here.
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