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Ship recycling redefined

Ship recycling redefined
The Hong Kong Convention (HKC) for the Safe and Environmentally Recycling of Ships will have received a much needed endorsement with the recent reports that Maersk Line has elected to send some of their redundant ships to “compliant” shipyards in India.

The HKC could do with a bit of a boost; it was adopted by the IMO some six years ago and to date only Norway, France and the Congo have ratified it.

It is a response that will go down very well in Japan, where the government has been putting serious efforts into assisting a number of Indian demolition yards to dramatically improve their HSE efforts, with four yards now judged to be capable of providing “sustainable” ship recycling services by the ClassNK teams which have been auditing their efforts.

The fact that this has proved possible, within a reasonable timeframe, is likely to give encouragement to other sub-continental yards to similarly improve. Indeed, facilities in Bangladesh and Pakistan are in receipt of technical assistance to help them along the same route. There is some confidence that the frightful pictures of contamination and danger, which have been transmitted by various activist organisations trying to shut down sub-continental shipbreaking will fade from the memory, along with improvement.

It is happening in the nick of time, with a huge surge of tonnage, driven by disaster in the dry bulk trades, overcapacity and gigantism in container shipping and mass redundancy offshore. It has to go somewhere to be recycled, and with more than three quarters of the world’s scrapping capacity in the sub-continent and China, although rates are low and unlikely to improve in the short term, with the world awash with Chinese steel.

Shipowners have been castigated by the activists for being unfussy about the working conditions in the scrapyards once they have handed over their ships, but there is a growing number who want to dispose of their unwanted vessels in a responsible manner. There are pressures from the EU, with its ship recycling regulation which to a certain extent “gold-plates” the terms of the HKC. The EU is compiling a list of facilities that it approves of and has been making strident noises about the evils of “beaching” which is how most ships are broken as opposed to enclosed docks (which are rare as hen’s teeth outside China).

But there are shipping industry guidelines to help owners do what is right and nobody has to wait for the convention to be enforced before deciding to recycle sustainably. But the whole exercise, which some years ago was not something most owners dwelt too long upon, has become rather more complex.

The European enthusiasm for the Basel Convention, with its insistence that a redundant ship is “waste” is not seen to be helpful. Nobody particularly relishes the prospect of the activists of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform suggesting that they are environmental criminals. The arrest of ships in Europe bound for demolition has made people think rather more about “end of life” decisions. The Dutch shipmaster charged following his unwise posting on social media of the last charge of his ship onto a sub-continental (and unapproved) beach, has also been noted in shipping offices!

But the approval of the four Indian yards by the Japanese government, and the news revealed at a seminar co-organised with IMO in London this month that other yards were in the approvals pipeline, demonstrates a more positive outcome. The presence of a growing number of HKC compliant yards in the sub-continent will hopefully encourage flag states, and indeed IMO member states engaged in recycling to ratify the convention and bring it into force.