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Stop the blame game: ship recyclers fighting a bad reputation

‘Companies saw the pandemic as a strategic opportunity to introduce a new wave of vessels; ones that are more efficient and needing fewer crew members,’ says Turkish ship recycler Orbay Simsek. ‘I saw employee numbers slashed from around 900 to 500 and this saves a lot of money, as you can imagine,’ he told Recycling International at the annual ship recycling conference in Rotterdam.

‘Granted, ship recycling experienced a rocky market, just like other world markets. But business is good now so we can’t complain,’ Simsek adds. His business, Simsekler Ship Recycling, based on the Aliaga coast, bought several decommissioned cruise ships when tourism slumped and older models were out of favour. Vessels now coming into the yard are roughly the same size or even bigger. ‘We don’t have to worry about the amount of scrap coming it at end-of-life stage,’ Simsek notes.

‘I’m also seeing more recyclers pursue petroleum tankers. This is a booming market with current fuel prices,’ he remarks. Even so, offshore drilling platforms is a niche that we won’t be getting into. ‘Yes, it’s big money but the risks are also big. You’re working at great heights, away from land, always at risk of explosion. I believe the risk of scrapping an offshore platform is 60-70% higher compared to scrapping a regular structure like a ship. You have to ask yourself: is it really worth it?’

Turkey is a popular ship recycling hub with 77 vessels (almost 1.5 million gross tonnage) dismantled in 2021. The same year saw a handful of lethal accidents amongst Turkish workers. ‘This made big headlines,’ recalls Slobodan Kecic, recycling programme manager at Altera Recycling in Norway. The ex-marine underlines how sensational news articles sends the message that the entire country is ‘bad’.

‘In our industry, sadly, accidents happen,’ Kecic says. ‘I don’t believe it’s possible to create a 100% safe and flawless environment. We can and must try, though. And we must be aware of negative branding by the media and other interest groups.

‘Society likes judging people. We need to remember who we’re holding accountable. An accident can’t be the entire country’s fault, right? We need to trace it back to a specific scenario happening at a specific recycler.’

In short, he says, it’s time to ‘stop playing the blame game’ which is entirely ‘unhelpful’. Instead of blacklisting a nation, he argues it would be wiser to ban problematic recyclers for six months. ‘Allowing people to be killed shouldn’t be rewarded, obviously,’ he says firmly. ‘Ship owners have been known to sell vessels to sites with a bad reputation but that can’t be how the story ends. It will ruin the reputation of all of us.’

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