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South Asian anxiety over EU shipbreaking moves

Asia/Europe – European plans to prohibit the use of potentially hazardous ship recycling operations in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have run aground owing to an ‘outcry’ from these South Asian countries, the ‘Wall Street Journal’ has reported.

‘The EU is asking for something that will cripple the economy of South Asia,’ it has been declared by Shafi Chaudhari, who ran one of Bangladesh’s first beaching operations. ‘It is a way for keeping our economies permanently poor.’ Yasmin Sultana, deputy secretary of policy at Bangladesh’s Ministry of Industries, has added: ‘I can’t stop the business suddenly – there are 300 000 people dependent on the industry.’ She has argued that the move would be ‘counterproductive’ as it would undermine existing international efforts to improve the industry’s performance.

‘Precautionary steps’

Also, many shipyard operators claim they have raised their standards already by outsourcing the handling of hazardous waste. Periodic audits by regulators and medical check-ups for workers are also said to be taking place. ‘We have introduced a number of precautionary steps before ships are allowed to beach,’ J.K Sinha, a member of India’s National Disaster Management Authority, has explained. ‘The safety measures are very good. Accidents may occur once in a while, but there is no scope for disasters.’

The European Parliament had proposed legislation to keep ships flying EU flags from being dismantled at ‘informal shipyards’. However, it now seems that pressure from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – which represent over 70% of the global ship recycling industry – has persuaded the EU Council of Ministers to oppose the beaching ban.

Final approval by the council, which includes the heads of EU member states, is needed to ratify the legislation. Carl Schlyter, member of Sweden’s Green Party, says the European Parliament has scheduled more talks this week, noting that ‘we are coming closer to a deal’.

European ship owners sent a record 365 vessels to South Asia’s beaches last year, according to shipping industry data provider Lloyd’s List. This is largely because South Asia pays top dollar for metal scrap – said to be US$ 410 per ton of steel compared to US$ 300 in Turkey and US$ 340 in China. In total, Asian scrap yards generated US$ 6.3 billion from beaching last year, Lloyd’s List estimates.

‘No adequate response’

At the same time, the World Bank argues that some 79 000 tons of asbestos and 250 000 tons of other carcinogenic chemicals will be dumped on Bangladesh’s beaches over the next 20 years. ‘When shipbreaking takes place directly on the beaches, full containment of the pollutants is impossible,’ states Patrizia Heidegger, executive director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. 

Citing 40 deaths last year alone throughout India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, she adds: ‘No adequate emergency response is available. How can an ambulance reach a vessel stuck in mud?’

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