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When will proper ship recycling be more than an afterthought?

With about 675 ships and offshore units sold for scrap around the world last year, recycling them correctly and safely remains a challenge, admits Marc van de Poel, founder of Marine Asbestos & Recycling Consultants. Around 90% of these end-of-life vessels wind up in the hands of ship breakers in South Asia.

‘The way we are going about it is all wrong,’ Van de Poel told the annual recent Ship Recycling Conference in Amsterdam. ‘Today, ship recycling is nothing more than an afterthought. We need to keep the recyclability in mind at the design phase of ships. We know we cannot recycle composite materials. So let’s climb the sustainability ladder. Let’s adopt a more cradle-to-cradle approach. Let’s start thinking about recycling before the ship is at sea.’

More checks needed

The first step towards improved ship recycling standards is arranging audits, says Elin Saltkjel of Grieg Green. The compliance company organises around 100 visits to yards worldwide every year to help recycling firms clean up their act. ‘The recycling capacity in Europe is good enough on paper. But, when asked, we hear that a lot of sites prefer repair work,’ Saltkjel notes.

She adds that Turkey is currently viewed as ‘the promised land for EU flagged vessels’ but only a handful of sites meet modern-day recycling standards. It would be helpful if the government could set up a watchdog organisation, Saltkjel suggests. ‘A benefit is that most yards are in the same area.’

EU spokesperson Peter Koller announces there are now 34 ship recycling sites on the list of facilities approved by the Hong Kong Convention. ‘Most of them are within the EU. One is located in the US and six are in Turkey. There are 30 pending applications, 20 of which are sites in India,’ Koller tells delegates in Amsterdam.

Evergreen considers legal action

Shipping line Evergreen is eager to point out that it recently strengthened its contracts by adding a liquidated damage clause into the agreements, hoping to deter non-compliant buyers. 

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform recently reported that Evergreen sold at least 11 ships to breaking yards in Bangladesh and India in 2019, labelling the line a ‘dumper’ of vessels.  

Evergreen says a ‘case in point’ is the scrapping of Ever Unison. The vessel was built in 1996 and sold for recycling in Bangladesh last August. However, the buyer is claimed to have breached the obligation to scrap the ship at a ‘green’ approved shipyard. As a result, Evergreen is now considering an injunction in the High Court to prevent the vessel being broken up at its current location.

Evergreen emphasises that its end-of-life and recycling policy requires the shipbreaking yard selected by buyers of its decommissioned vessels to be not only ISO certified (ISO 9000, 14001, 18001 or 30000) but also to have implemented class approved standards of the 2009 Hong Kong Convention.

Despite the Convention not yet being officially in force, Evergreen insists on the adoption of ‘such stringent standards’ to ensure decommissioned vessels are scrapped in a safe and eco-friendly manner.

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