Close to 470 large tankers, bulkers, floating platforms, cargo and passenger ships were scrapped in primitive, substandard conditions on beaches in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan in 2019, according to new data released by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
‘There is wide-spread knowledge of the irreparable damage caused by dirty and dangerous practices on tidal mudflats, yet profit is the only decisive factor for most ship owners when selling their vessels for breaking,’ says the organisation’s founder and director Ingvild Jenssen.
The Shipbreaking Platform logged accidents that killed 24 workers on the beach at Chattogram (formerly known as Chittagong), Bangladesh, making 2019 ‘the worst year for Bangladeshi yards in terms of fatalities since 2010’. At least another 34 were severely injured. Local sources and media have reported two deaths at Indian shipbreaking yards that claim to be operating safely.
45 ships from UAE
Ship owners of the United Arab Emirates were responsible for the highest number of ships sold to breaking yards in south Asia in 2019: 45 in total. Greek owners were next with 40 beached vessels and the US with 29.
‘American offshore giants Diamond Offshore, Rowan Companies, Tidewater and Transocean are amongst the biggest global dumpers exploiting the environments and impoverished work force of South Asia,’ claims Jim Puckett, director of the US based Basel Action Network (BAN), a member organisation of the Shipbreaking Platform. ‘These owners use foreign flags to hide their dirty work but our research clearly lays the blame on these companies, who act in violation of international law and norms.’
Other well-known shipping companies that dumped toxic ships on south Asian beaches in 2019 include Costamare, CMA CGM, Diamond Offshore, ENSCO, MOL, MSC, NYK Line, Tidewater and Vale.
Illegal practices by Maersk?
Danish container shipping giant Maersk scrapped four vessels on Indian beaches last year, according to the Shipbreaking Platform. The company is said to have left the Danish shipping registry ‘in order to circumvent the new EU laws requiring the use of EU-approved recycling facilities, and at least two of the ships even left EU waters in breach of an international and European ban on the export of hazardous waste to developing countries’.
In November, a Bangladeshi court condemned the illegal breaking of Maersk’s FPSO North Sea Producer after it had been sold to GMS for cash and allegedly fraudulently exported from the UK in 2016. Criminal investigations are underway in the UK.
Eleven vessels from the container shipping line Evergreen are said to have ended up in South Asia in 2019. In the past couple of years, the company has been under the spotlight for damaging shipbreaking practices. Dry bulk shipping company Berge Bulk is runner-up for worst corporate practice, according to the NGO. Four ships owned by the Bermuda-based ship owner ended up in Bangladesh ‘for dirty and dangerous breaking’.
Meanwhile, more yards claim to have upgraded their beaching facilities to comply with the requirements set by the International Maritime Organisation’s Hong Kong Convention. Even so, recent inspections by the European Commission in Alang and media reports have flagged ‘serious concerns related to pollution of the intertidal area; absence of medical facilities; breaches of labour rights and lack of capacity to safely manage a number of hazardous waste streams, including mercury and radioactive contaminated materials that are typically found on offshore oil & gas units’.