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Entrepreneur wants to put Canada’s old fleet to rest

Canada has around 60 ‘ships of concern’ waiting to be scrapped. ‘The problem is that ship recycling capacity is terrible in our part of the world,’ says Trevor Sexton, ceo of Catherwood Towing, based in British Columbia. ‘We must scale up – soon.’

Sexton tells Recycling International: ‘Our active fleet is very old with most vessels at least 50 years old. That’s why we are building a new site to recycle ships more efficiently in Canada.’ The businessman has been trying to get his foot in the door for four years. ‘Plans got more concrete about two years ago but we still have a way to go,’ he says over a cup of coffee at the recent Ship Recycling Conference in Rotterdam.

Switching off pilot mode

Currently, the only commercial yard is in Ontario, operated by Marine Recycling Corporation. The second closest is in Texas. ‘Neither are ideal because they involve going through narrow canals or going halfway around the country.’

Catherwood processed three ships last year and Sexton admits that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the 300 vessels at end-of-life stage. ‘We’re operating a small site, more or less in pilot mode. We’re talking about relatively small assets, maybe 20 000 tonnes a piece; barges and such.’

Canada’s ship recycling sector is still in its infancy and there is the blight of abandoned ships, mostly leisure vessels and outdated barges left in rivers or near marinas. ‘Some call them ghost ships,’ Sexton says. ‘The question is: “who will take responsibility?” No one is offering to clean up this mess.’

Learning from leaders

He laments his team has faced a lot of ‘red tape’ in trying to scale up capacity. It doesn’t help, either, that large areas along the coast are off limits. ‘We must take protected environmental areas and indigenous groups into account. I understand we have to find the right balance and the right spot but this doesn’t leave us with a lot of options.’

Another challenge is that Canada has no concrete ship recycling regulations. ‘We are lagging behind, severely,’ Sexton says. ‘My team and I are looking to Europe for inspiration. That’s why we came all the way to Rotterdam. ‘We don’t have an annual conference on ship recycling; that would be amazing. But I’m more than willing to travel so I can learn from leaders in industry,’ he adds with a nod to his neighbours.

Out of the labyrinth

In a bid to increase momentum, Catherwood is working with the second largest steel producer in the US to take ship recycling to the next level. ‘I can’t give too many details. We are still collecting information about laws and certifications, taking samples, comparing notes; it’s a lot of trial and error.’

Sexton is actively surveying the best framework for recycling vessels. ‘It won’t surprise you to hear that there are good bits in the Hong Kong Convention, the Basel Convention and the International Ship Recycling Regulation,’ he says, adding he is overwhelmed by a general confusion, and different opinions and interpretations. ‘I’m new to the debate, obviously, but it’s a labyrinth of legislation.’

Sexton wants to the best elements from all individual regulations. ‘Is there such a thing as a perfect solution? Probably not. I’m glad we won’t have to start at square one. Ship recyclers in North America don’t have the luxury of time reinventing the wheel.’

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