Here follows a short but very interesting extract from a Lloyds Register document detailing the very recent history of industrial ship scrappage - the relevance of which will be made apparent in due course.
World War II left a vast amount of steel locked up in redundant warships and cargo ships (some in the US fleet are still awaiting scrapping). These ships were scrapped at places such as Inverkeithing in Britain and yielded in total approximately 500,000 tonnes of high-quality steel. After the war, ship scrapping continued in places such as La Spezia, Italy, and Japan. However, as the ship building industry shifted eastwards in the 1970s, so did the scrapping industry.
Taiwan was the principal destination, and ships were broken literally in the centre of Kaohsiung port, until, on August 11, 1986, an explosion and fire on board the tanker Canari killed 14 people and injured 47 more. Due to a huge public outcry, what had been an unregulated industry in Taiwan suddenly became subject to a major crackdown. As is typical within the waste sector, the ship scrapping industry moved, overnight. At exactly this time, Alang, a coastal town in the Indian state of Gujarat, experienced its first major growth spurt in scrapping. Gujarat Maritime Board records the first ship scrapped at Alang as the MV Kota Tenjung, beached on February 13, 1983.
Reports indicate that by 1989 the number of employees in Alang had reached 40,000. Bangladesh and Pakistan followed suit. The shipping industry was slow to notice these developments. This isn’t so surprising. Waste is often ‘out of sight and out of mind’, and when a ship changes hands for scrapping, the original owner is commonly unaware of its destination.
However, there was a growing realisation that working conditions at ship recycling locations were extremely hazardous, and not only in the Indian subcontinent. Will Englund from American newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, first became aware of the issues surrounding ship recycling in 1995 when the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea was being scrapped in Brownsville. Problems with the scrapping of this ship had resulted in the company responsible being prosecuted for the first environmental violations within the US shipbreaking industry. The owner, Kerry L. Ellis, was convicted under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and died in prison in 2000.
Englund dug deeper. He teamed up with the Investigative reporter Gary Cohn and between them they ran a series of articles exposing the worst excesses of shipbreaking around the world. In April 1998, they won a Pulitzer Prize and today the news articles still make fascinating and engaging reading.
By the late 1990s, pressure was building on the shipping industry. The 1st Global Ship Scrapping Summit was held in Amsterdam in 1999, a year after Englund and Cohn’s prize win. This was just one indication that attitudes were beginning to change and that the industry was realising the need for more responsible ship recycling. Another was the term ‘ship recycling’ being coined publicly for the first time, by Jim Davies of the International Maritime Industries Forum (IMIF). He asserted that ship recycling was actually (or potentially) an enviably efficient process – far more so than recycling within other industries at that time.
In these ways, the traditional notion of ‘scrapping’ started to be replaced by the more modern idea of "recycling" and words and worries quickly became action. An ‘Industry Working Group on Ship Recycling’ was rapidly formed under the chairmanship of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), consisting of the major shipping industry bodies. This Group delivered the first practical guidance on ship recycling – the Industry Code of Practice on Ship Recycling – in August 2001. This document contained guidelines on achieving safer and more environmentally sound ship recycling, and crucially created the concept of the ‘Green Passport’ (or ‘Inventory of Hazardous Materials’ as it is now known). The Code is still in use today.
Other non-shipping legislative organisations followed the Working Group’s lead and issued guidance on ship recycling. The Basel Convention published Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of the Full and Partial Dismantling of Ships in 2003, and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) published Safety and Health in Shipbreaking: Guidelines for Asian Countries and Turkey in 2004. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) was also spurred on by the shipping industry’s initiative.
The subject was formally introduced at IMO’s 43rd Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) in 1999 when Norway proposed a new work item on ship scrapping. At MEPC 44 a correspondence group was set up under the chairmanship of Bangladesh and at MEPC 46 in April 2001 a Working Group was established.
The correspondence group recognised that the greatest potential for progress lay in building on the efforts of the Industry Working Group, and, in December 2003, the IMO published Guidelines on Ship Recycling which relied heavily on the Industry Code of Practice and introduced the Green Passport concept. The world’s first ‘Green Passport’ was issued for the Shell LNG Tanker Granatina in 2004.
Despite the IMO Guidelines, there was still potential for confusion for owners wishing to recycle their ships,especially given the other recycling-related legislation which existed – legislation such as the Basel Convention. The only way forward was to create statutory requirements by developing a legally binding international convention.
The IMO set an ambitious deadline to complete this within the 2008/2009 biennium. Norway, in particular, acted very strongly in support of this and provided the first draft for discussion at MEPC. The text was developed over three and a half years with input from IMO member states and relevant non-governmental organisations, and in co-operation with the International Labour Organization and the Parties to the Basel Convention. Lloyd's Register, through IACS and discussions with other stakeholders, was also actively involved in the Convention’s development. Such was the impetus at the IMO that the deadline was achieved and the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted in May 2009.
Like all IMO Conventions, it will only enter into force when the requisite number of member states has ratified it. At the time of writing, this would be 2014 at the earliest.
Readers will note that nowhere in this extract do the words "European Union" appear. This largely reinforces our point that the most critical regulations regarding the protection of our environment and maritime safety are made by the ILO, IMO and international conventions - in which Norway (a non-EU member) is an active participant influencing global affairs of massive significance.
A minority of owners (Maersk) are now seeking greater control over the conditions under which their ships are demolished and the handling and disposal of non-recyclable materials. And there will be some now who will start to consider the full environmental impact, and cost, of building, operating and recycling ships. Disposal will be built into the economics of ship operations.
However, as Lloyds notes "for the present the market is still dominated by practices unchanged for decades. The value of ships at the end of their useful life is dominated by the prevailing freight and sale and purchase markets for ships. The economics of ship demolition and market drivers where demand for scrap steel is highest in the sub-continent, and regional labour markets and regulation that allow beaching, have created a relatively efficient market" - but at a massive human and environmental cost.
In recent years we have seen virtually all of our ship disposal outsourced to shady operators, not least many of our notable Royal Navy ships. The costs of domestic dismantling are too severe. Regulatory compliance does not come cheap. So in seeking to level the playing field and not dump our toxic ships on the third world, we need to be active participants at the top tables ensuring sustainable practices are exported to those nations with whom we do business. For that we need leverage and the ability to forge our own trade deals - and crucially our own seat with our own vote and veto at the very top tables. That is not possible unless we leave the EU.
What we can clearly see is that it is the UK exporting its toxic shipping disposal that has done more for UK beach hygiene standards than the EU - which itself adopts WHO standards and guidelines. What we also see is that in all of this, the EU is not only anonymous bit player - it is also wholly redundant. Trade is globalised, regulation likewise - and our membership of the EU is superfluous to any of these concerns. Brexit does not in any way impact our influence as we can see from Norway's involvement. And if you won't take my word for it - take it up with Lloyd's Register. What would they know, huh?