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Detained Scottish rigs ‘on route to Indian breakers’

Oil rigs operated by Diamond Offshore have been scrapped at the widely criticised shipbreaking yards in Alang, India. A new BBC documentary reveals how a ‘middleman’, Global Marketing Systems (GMS), purchased five rigs and sold them to cash buyers with a reputation for dismantling vessels under ‘poor conditions’ in South Asia.

The first transaction, in 2017, involved two US oil rigs – the Ocean Alliance and the Ocean Baroness. They left the Gulf of Mexico and ended up at a beaching facility in Alang where industry sources say at least 137 workers have died over the last decade.

Three more oil rigs, which had been operating in Scottish waters, were allegedly due to follow the same route but they were detained locally in Cromarty Firth by officials of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Chief executive Terry A’Hearn insists the units will remain there until a recycling partner has been found to dismantle them ‘properly’.

The cases are said to represent a clear breach of UK and international law, which prevents the movement of such waste from the UK to developing countries. While Diamond Offshore did not directly sell the oil rigs to Indian shipbreakers, A’hearn argues that the company had a duty of care under the law. In short, it had to be certain the rigs were going to a party who would ‘do the right thing’.

Ingvild Jenssen, founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, is not surprised at the development. ‘Western shipping companies are earning millions of dollars exploiting poor practices in South Asia,’ she says, claiming that the Hariyana shipbreaking yard, where the Ocean Alliance was scrapped, pays workers only 35 cents an hour. The BBC documentary includes secret drone footage showing workers operating acetylene torches without breathing masks or protective clothing.

Diamond Offshore insists its sales contracts require ‘those that we contract with to comply with all applicable laws’. This includes the preparation, transport and recycling of rigs. A spokesperson says: ‘The rigs ceased to be part of the Diamond fleet more than two years ago and we are therefore not in a position to comment on the current status or future plans for these rigs.’

Meanwhile, GMS denies owning the rigs detained in Scotland or that it was about to move them to India in breach of regulations.

‘Many more offshore assets will need to be scrapped in the coming years,’ Jenssen points out. ‘Companies that have owned and operated these units are responsible for ensuring that they are recycled without harming workers and the environment. For any unit having operated in the North Sea, there are more than enough options within Europe.’

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