Greenpeace’s position on recycling challenged at Mare Forum

One of several key sessions at the recent Mare Forum conference in Shanghai was “Ship Recycling in China”.

Speakers included the Chairman, China National Shipscrapping Association, who described the work of the Association, including the establishment of a Green Code which is used to assess the standards of its members. He demonstrated how, by working with national and regional governments, local waste processors and ship owners, the demolition of any ship could be undertaken in a safe and environmentally sound manner, while at the same time bringing enormous benefits to the local community, to the state and to society at large.

The General Manager, Airmingtons, explained the roles of “Demolition Brokers” and “Cash Buyers” in negotiating contracts acceptable to all parties which also contribute to Green Recycling. This includes providing language translations, acquiring licences and permits, and assisting owners in ship preparation pre-handover. P&O Nedlloyd described the company’s early work in China to ensure the establishment of good practices, particularly in waste handling and processing, and its subsequent first-class experiences in the demolition of a large number of vessels.

In the ensuing discussion, representatives from Greenpeace (Belgium) stated that, despite the adoption of the Industry Code of Practice on Recycling, only a very few owners were delivering ships to breaking yards with an inventory of hazardous and toxic substances. They claimed that in their recent experience none of the ships had produced such an inventory. Further, they claimed that no owner had undertaken the systematic “cleaning” of a vessel during its operating life, and that owners continued to “export toxic waste” to the breaking yards, which they claimed was “in clear violation of the Basel Convention”.

These statements brought a strong and often scathing response from many in the audience, and when challenged, the Greenpeace representatives agreed that it is probably impossible to “clean” a ship fully before delivering it to the breakers. They insisted that it is, however, the responsibility of the owner to ensure the proper removal of all toxic wastes, and to arrange for the return of these wastes to the “country where the eventual decision had been made to demolish the ship” - a suggestion ridiculed immediately by most of those present. In its rebuttal, Greenpeace further attacked those owners who use “Flags of Convenience” as an attempt to avoid their responsibilities under “international laws”, and their legal obligations under the Basel Convention, demonstrating an ongoing misunderstanding of the status quo.

Not just owners but many others, including representatives of recycling facilities, were exceptionally critical of Greenpeace’s negative and sometimes ill-informed campaign. Greenpeace’s tenuous linking of ship demolition to the Basel Convention was challenged, and it was highlighted that Greenpeace omitted any reference in its campaign literature to the enormous environmental benefits of ship recycling as well as the economic and other benefits to the local community.

Owners accepted the importance of developing an inventory of toxic and hazardous materials prior to final disposal, and similarly of seeking a “green passport” listing these items at the delivery of a new ship, which should also be maintained throughout its life. The Industry Associations, led by INTERTANKO and the Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association, praised the efforts of the Chinese shipbreakers and the focus they had put on the real issue – namely the uniform adoption of minimum HSE standards in recycling yards, i.e. personnel health and safety in the local facilities, proper environmental controls during the demolition and the local processing of waste products.

To this end they, and many others, challenged Greenpeace to work with the governments in those countries undertaking ship demolition, with the IMO and ILO, and with industry to develop an International Code of Practice for Shipbreaking, and to ensure that it is adopted and implemented fully.

Contact: Peter Swift