Deadly asbestos exported to Asia

Feature story - June 19, 2003
Asbestos is cleaned from buildings in Europe because of the hazards to human health. But Europe still exports asbestos to Asia in the form of old ships full of hazardous waste which are scrapped on beaches by unprotected workers. We are acting to put an end to this practice.

Activists scale the EU building to call for an end to the export of hazardous waste in old ships to Asia.

To highlight this European double standard climbers scaled an EU building in Brussels which has recently been cleaned of asbestos. Our campaigner, Martin Besieux was at the scene: "We're transforming this building to call for mandatory regulations to oblige ship owners to clean their ships before sending them to be scrapped in Asia. "While Europe cleans buildings like this of asbestos to protect its own citizens, it allows European ship owners to send the same toxic substance in their ships to Asia. When the ships are scrapped, the asbestos pollutes the environment and is a health risk to unprotected workers who remove it from the vessels with their bare hands. Can Europe continue to uphold such double standards?"

This is the culmination of a three week tour of Europe by a delegation of people involved in shipbreaking in Asia, to call for an urgent solution to the environmental and health problems associated with the industry. The shipping sector is still reluctant to assume the full liability for the decontamination of their ships before they are exported. This means shipbreaking countries are being polluted with known hazardous substances such as dioxins, asbestos and PCBs. There have been eight accidents involving contaminated ships at the Alang yard in India alone over the past two and a half months, in which 20 people have died. Read about the experiences on the tour and view the pictures.

We are calling on the EU to prevent pollution and protect workers and Asian ship breaking yards by adopting mandatory legislation to stop the shipping industry sending ships containing hazardous materials to Asia for scrap without cleaning them first.

"The shipowners and shipping federations we've met during our European visit have refused to take any responsibility or individual efforts to clean their ships. So we've now come to Brussels, the heart of European politics, to call for this much needed initiative to help stop us being polluted by European hazardous waste. If nothing changes we will continue to be exposed to deadly toxics for many years to come," said Mr Salim, a shipbreaker from Bangladesh.

Attempts to strengthen legislation in individual shipbreaking countries - India, Bangladesh and China - have been undermined by ship owners because they simply send their toxic vessels to another country that does not have such regulations.

Act now:

Send a message to the UN on shipbreaking.

Play 'tricks of the trade' to find out more about the industry.

Are you connected to the shipping industry, a shipspotter, a harbourmaster, a crew member or in any other way able to localize the positions of ships? We need your help!

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Find out more about the problems of shipbreaking and the solutions. Also in Francias, Nederlands.