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Basel vote tightens rules on hazardous waste in end-of-life ships

Switserland – The Basel Convention must continue setting the rules for recycling and disposal of end-of-life ships, African countries attending the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention have insisted.

Delegates told the meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, that they feared current controls on hazardous waste management might be relaxed under the International Maritime Organization’s rival Hong Kong Convention (HKC).

Legal experts and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) joined developing nations in expressing concern that the HKC, adopted in 2009 but not as yet ratified by any country, would allow the export of asbestos, PCBs, residue oils and heavy metals to countries and communities ill-equipped to handle them. A particular aspect of the HKC that worries environmental groups is that it will allow recycling of ships on tidal beaches in the developing world.

‘The Hong Kong Convention is radically different from the Basel Convention as it puts the costs and liabilities of waste management on the importing state and not the polluter – who in this case is the ship owner,’ said Ingvild Jenssen, Director of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking.

Ms Jenssen claimed the European Union is working on the basis that the two instruments are equivalent and that the HKC could ultimately supersede Basel, a prospect the shipping industry is thought to welcome.

However, the 178 countries that are party to Basel voted at the conference to bring into law the Basel Ban Amendment. This will prohibit exports of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries under any circumstances, including electronic wastes and other materials contained in end-of-life vessels.

The deal was brokered by Indonesia and Switzerland and was supported by developing countries, China, the EU and NGOs including Greenpeace, the Center for International Environmental Law, the Basel Action Network and the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking.

Jim Puckett, Executive Director of the Basel Action Network, said: ‘The ban ensures that developing countries are not convenient dumping grounds for toxic factory waste, obsolete ships containing asbestos or old computers coming from affluent countries. It enforces the Basel Convention obligation that all countries manage their own hazardous waste.’

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