Ship dismantling industry set to go green
Geneva/Nairobi, 19 June 2001 - International experts on hazardous wastes and shipping are joining forces in Geneva today under the auspices of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal to start finalizing international Guidelines for the environmentally safe dismantling of obsolete ships.
"By taking responsibility for the environmental impacts of its expired equipment, the shipping industry is setting a high standard for other industries to emulate," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, which provides the Convention's secretariat. "These Guidelines also demonstrate once again the vital contribution that the Basel Convention is making to reducing the risks of hazardous wastes."
Although ships played a role in inspiring the international community to adopt the Basel Convention in
1989 - as the vehicles for highly publicized cargoes of hazardous wastes sent from industrialized countries for dumping in developing and East European countries - it is only in the last several years that the toxic materials they themselves are made of have become a priority issue.
The decommissioning of a large vessel may involve the removal of many tonnes of hazardous wastes, including Persistent Organic Pollutants such as PCBs, heavy metals such as mercury and lead, asbestos, and oil and gas. Dismantling can also result in the release of dioxin and sulphur fumes. Workers, local communities, coastal and ocean biodiversity, groundwater and air are all at risk.
The 89-page Guidelines seek to minimize or eliminate these risks by introducing universally applied principles for the environmentally sound management of ship dismantling. They detail procedures and good practices for decommissioning and selling obsolete ships, dismantling them, sorting the parts (for reuse, recycling and disposal), identifying potential contaminants, preventing toxic releases, monitoring environmental impacts, and responding to emergencies and accidents. They also address the design, construction and operation of ship dismantling facilities.
The demolition of ships involves many high-risk activities, particularly at low-cost, labour-intensive operations. At the same time, ship breaking contributes significantly to local and national economies. Most ships are about 80-90% steel, which can be sold as scrap metal for reprocessing. Other valuable components, such as engines, electrical equipment, furniture, pumps and valves, and much more can also be profitably recycled.
Because ship breaking is so labour intensive, the industry has established a strong presence in several Asian developing countries, which also provide eager markets for the recycled parts. India breaks 42% of the vessels that are dismantled every year, Bangladesh 7%, Pakistan 6%, China 4%, and the rest of the world 41%.
As world trade expands so does the global shipping fleet. It is estimated that 500-700 merchant vessels, including oil tankers and cargo ships, will be scrapped annually over the next 15 years. The average age of the cargo-carrying fleet is now 18 years, compared to an average scrapping age of 25-26 years.
Concerned that the practices at major breaking yards violate the Basel Convention's provisions, the EU is studying the feasibility of dismantling ships in Europe. The US has prohibited the export of government-owned vessels to the major breakers and is also considering its own disposal capacity. The Asian ship breakers are deeply concerned not to lose this important business.
The new guidelines are being developed by the Basel Convention's Technical Working Group. The International Maritime Organization (addressing safety and environmental issues in international shipping), the International Chamber of Shipping (now drafting the first-ever guidelines on how shipbuilders can minimize the environmental impacts of the retirement phase of a ship's life cycle), the Internation