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Saturday, October 20, 2018


A positive twist to the ‘ghost’ ship saga

The ship recycling industry may not be deluged with tonnage from the currently high-earning tanker and dry bulk sectors, but the ongoing saga of whether the US naval reserve vessels (or the so-called ‘ghost’ ships) will be allowed to scrap in the UK (with Able UK) is still claiming the attention of the shipping industry, because it involves fundamental issues. The whole saga is intensified by an often ill-informed press and by the entrenched positions of some of the parties involved.

However, two things have lent a far more positive twist to this business. First an excellent, impartial and crystal-clear article by two members of the Institute of Maritime Law at the University of Southampton, published in Lloyd’s List. Second, an environmental organisation that has left other entrenched environmentalists behind posturing, in order to come forward and propose a realistic solution.

The two lawyers, Darren Wall and Michael Tsimplis believe that the whole ‘ghost ships’ affair suggests an over-narrow interpretation of the convention on transport of hazardous wastes.

Their main points are:

1)     These US vessels contain no more hazardous substances than any other ship of a similar age.

2)     The Basel Convention permits transport of hazardous wastes only between parties to the Convention (the UK is a party; the US is not) …

3)     … except for where bilateral agreements exist between party and non-party state, such agreements to uphold the principle of “environmentally sound management” as defined in the Convention.

4)     These ships are arguably included in the Convention’s definition of wastes, but whether a ship is deemed hazardous waste or not will depend on each individual ship’s materials, contamination and residues. (The whole issue of whether or not ships are (hazardous) waste is the subject of ongoing study by the Basel Convention secretariat).

5)     The US (MarAd) and the UK (Environment Agency - EA) agreed that the 13 naval reserve vessels could be recycled in the UK in drydock provided that a bund was in place as a barrier to minimise pollution risks.

6)     Modification to Able’s waste management licence (for increased volume of waste) was granted by the EA, but subsequently reviewed and revoked.

7)     Because UK agreements for Able to construct this bund were not yet in place, the EA advised Able and MarAd against allowing the ships to sail until the agreements were finalised.

8)     Four ships set sail despite this advice. The law says that these ships must return to the US unless the EA gives permission for the work, but leave has been given for them to stay until the end of the winter.

9)     Given the environmental and financial risks of losing a ship during long-distance transport, and given that the US has or could develop facilities to recycle these ships, Wall and Tsimplis argue that it is possible that the whole operation, although permitted by the words of the Convention, is essentially in breach of the spirit of the Convention.

Does this all leave the tanker industry any further forward in evaluating where and how to recycle its old tankers? Perhaps not. But at least the whys and wherefores of this high-profile case are now clearer, and some lessons can be learned by the tanker industry.

However, the most constructive move so far in this whole affair comes from an unexpected quarter. The French environmental organisation Robin des Bois (Robin Hood), prominent in attacking the French government over its handling of the demolition of the decommissioned aircraft carrier Clemenceau, has said that while it deplores the fact that the US has not found a way of dealing with these ships on its own territory, it nevertheless believes, given that four of the ships have already arrived in the UK, that the breaking contract should be allowed to proceed.

Chairman Jacky Bonnemains believes that the company should be given the opportunity to demonstrate its capabilities with at least one of the ships. The alternative, he argues, is that such ships will be taken to facilities in India, Pakistan or Turkey which would not be able to offer the same guarantees to their employees (and to the environment) as a European yard. “The initiative of the English company is positive. It says it can recycle a US ship in six weeks. Let it do it and let objective conclusions be drawn afterwards from the experience.”

Bonnemains recognises that his organisation is out of step with other environmental organisations, but maintains “There is something illogical in pushing for fleet renewal and the seizure of rustbuckets, and yet at the same time systematically opposing the initiative of a European company which has understood the situation and wants to (increase its exposure to) ship dismantling.”

These sentiments of Bonnemains were echoed at the recent meeting of the International Maritime Organization which discussed whether or not ship recycling guidelines should be mandatory or voluntary. Panama’s delegate referred to an intervention by INTERTANKO’s Environment Manager Tim Wilkins, who had asked whether the tanker industry should be condemned without trial to suffer mandatory guidelines. Panama urged delegates to “Give the industry a chance to do what it is capable of doing.”

The IMO decision to make ship recycling guidelines voluntary, and Bonnemains’ urging that Able UK be given a chance to demonstrate its capabilities, represent a challenge to both the recycling industry and the tanker industry to prove that they can both do their bit.

A need for a fresh approach followed by action needed to combat piracy

Proper remedies must be identified to combat piracy against international shipping. INTERTANKO regards passive countermeasures such as advice to ship’s crew to be alert, preparation of fire-hoses, employment of the “citadel” method of protection and other passive countermeasures as sensible and good advice, but unfortunately they are not always sufficient. Nor is it enough for owners to ensure that their ships are compliant with the ISPS Code.

A fresh approach is required from the national authorities to tackle the root causes, whether under the auspices of the UN or not.

Along with Malaysia’s enhanced patrols, it is encouraging to note the initiative taken by the Singapore Police Coast Guard and the Japan Coast Guard in their mutual exercise to enhance security. INTERTANKO also notes with great interest that the National Union of Marine Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers (NUMAST) has sent an appeal to the United Nations.

‘Armed robbery’ and ‘piracy’ are defined separately in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (article 101). It is an established fact that international crime syndicates are behind the graver incidents and they are represented world wide. A reduction in piracy incidents is hoped for in the Malacca Straits and in Indonesian waters as a result of the enhanced patrols in the area. However, this may well transfer the problem to other areas that are less well patrolled.

MSC.4/Circ.42 of 3 November 2003 “Reports on acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships” can be viewed here.

The attached maps (covering July through September), include other focal areas such as: Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Borneo, Malaysia, Singapore, South China Sea, Bangladesh, India/Sri Lanka, Somalia, Tanzania, Senegal, Ghana, Togo/Benin, Nigeria, the Caribbean Sea, Central and Northern South America down to Rio Grande (Brazil), Peru and Ecuador/Colombia.

INTERTANKO appreciates the littoral states’ concern for sovereignty, and fully understands the difficulties that could be generated by patrols even under the auspices of the UN.

Piracy is well within the scope of terrorism, and both are criminal acts. The efforts to combat piracy in the MalaccaStraits and adjacent waters are a great step forward. However, blue-beret patrols may be required in the long run.

  • INTERTANKO has the ‘piracy’ issue high on the agenda and intends to establish a small working group.
  • The Malacca Straits is a good place on which to concentrate initial efforts, and the other littoral states are encouraged to join the Singaporean and Japanese Coast Guards to further enhance such patrols and law-enforcement in the Straits.
  • The INTERTANKO working group will endeavour to formulate an ‘anti-piracy action plan’ (APAP) for the Malacca/Singapore Straits.
  • INTERTANKO will seek closer co-operation with the various national authorities in countries that have a vested interest in securing shipping, including the ASEAN countries that are encouraged to co-operate.
  • INTERTANKO will establish links with all industry partners that have a vested interest.
  • Shipping companies transiting the straits are encouraged to co-operate in order to tackle the problem and to create an optimal APAP.
  • A group of legal experts must be established to determine what measures can legally be applied and also to provide advice on how the sovereignty issues may be addressed. 
  • Ship owners’ and officers’/crew associations are encouraged to make appeals to the United Nations following the example of the UK’s NUMAST.

Contact: Steinar Kr. Digre