EU’S attention turns to ship recycling

Ship recycling, or scrapping, has recently been receiving increased attention from the Commission, the European Parliament and environmentalists in Brussels.

The European Commission was recently approached by Greenpeace who is lobbying for mandatory EU rules to oblige shipowners to remove all hazardous materials from their ships before exporting them for recycling.

So far, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Margot Wallström, seems to be supporting stronger engagement in the issue by ILO, the IMO and the Basel Convention members. The IMO agreed in March 2002 to draw up guidelines on ship recycling which will be ready for adoption at IMO’s General Assembly in November 2003. The Guidelines include recommendations for enhancing ship design and construction to limit the amount of hazardous materials used and to facilitate recycling at the end of the ships life. Additionally, there are recommendations on the regular removal of hazardous substances when ships undergo maintenance or refurbishment. Greenpeace is not happy with these voluntary measures and therefore has approached the EU in the hope of securing mandatory measures at EU level and thus placing pressure on the IMO.

Moreover, the IMO guidelines will complement voluntary standards on green dismantling procedures for ship recycling facilities developed by the secretariat of the UN Basel Convention on international trade in hazardous waste. These were approved by the Basel Convention members on 13 December 2002. Whereas these guidelines provide for guidance to countries that hold facilities for ship dismantling, further Guidelines have been developed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) regarding the occupational and safety aspects of ship recycling. However, neither set of Guidelines address the legal questions regarding the export of ships as hazardous waste.

The Environment Commissioner announced therefore that she would write to the IMO, the ILO and the Basel Secretariat urging them to make progress with drafting and implementing the guidelines on ship recycling. Awaiting an IMO agreement, the EU will then consider the effectiveness of this agreement in combination with the Basel Convention, and assess whether it needs to put forward a proposal of its own. Commissioner Wallström has already indicated that a revision of the existing EU rules might follow. The present rules do not address the specific problem associated with the sale of a ship for scrap.  In order to fall within the scope of the Convention, the ship would have to be defined as waste before being sent for exports, otherwise it would be considered as a local disposal. The problem is that a vessel may be sold and bought several times during its economic life, via brokers.  It is often the case that ships are sent to the recycling destination as a final commercial voyage and so bypassing any export restriction.

The increased political focus on ship recycling is also a consequence of the accelerated phase-out of single hull tankers post-Prestige. As highlighted in Weekly News No 18, Wilhelm Piecyk, the European Parliament’s Rapporteur on the Prestige proposal, asked for attention to be given to the scrapping of the tankers in question and invited the Commission to consider how they should be disposed of. Responding in the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, the Commission said that they were working on this issue in the IMO. The Commission also stated that they are planning to carry out a study into the effects of accelerated phase-out with regard to scrapping and that they will look at the effects on a global level if the same is adopted by IMO. 

Contact:Tim Wilkins