In Parliament >> Broken up in Bangladesh

10th April 2013

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  • Pollution & Waste Management



Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson in the European parliament, outlines EU plans to ensure high standards in ship dismantling

It’s high tide. The captain orders “full speed ahead” and another enormous ship ploughs up a beach in Bangladesh or elsewhere in Asia. It’s broken up with no thought to hazardous materials or pollution.

Little heed is paid to the safety of bare-footed workers avoiding shards in the sand or the metal that rains down as torches cut through the hull. In this way owners secure the top price for their “old” vessels.

Exporting waste from the EU is illegal, yet each year more than 300 European ships end up like this instead of being recycled to high standards. At the end of their lives they are “reflagged” out of EU ownership. It is a massive loophole and, under international marine law, there’s nothing we can do about it. Standards would be raised if the 2009

Hong Kong Convention was ratified by all countries, but that is unlikely to happen soon.

A financial incentive is needed to encourage ship owners to do the right thing. The European parliament’s environment committee voted last month to create a recycling fund into which all large ships will pay a contribution every time they call at an EU port.

The fund will subsidise the difference in cost between having a vessel recycled in an EU-approved yard and being broken up on a beach.

Ports are complaining about the idea, fearing increased shipping charges and loss of business.

No-one likes the idea of imposing additional costs on the consumer, although over the typical 20–30 year lifespan of a ship the expense of safe disposal born by any single container of goods will be hard to detect. And I have yet to hear any critic propose a credible alternative.

The European parliament will vote on the proposal shortly. The current Irish presidency of the EU is keen to explore common ground between MEPs and ministers before the summer. Let’s see what progress can be made.


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