With international agreement that ships can be considered toxic waste, better controls on shipbreaking should result.
At the end of their sailing life, ships are sold for their
valuable steel. Because labour is cheap and local environmental
regulation lax, the breaking of these old ships takes place on the
beaches of countries like Turkey, India, Bangladesh, and China.
However, old ships contain hazardous substances such as asbestos,
lead paint, PCBs and explosive gases. During scrapping these
poisons are released into the environment and workers bodies.
For over six years we have been campaigning to stop the shipping
industry being able to sell old ships for recycling without first
cleaning the ships of hazardous materials. The current situation
means the shipping industry can make a profit of around US$2
million per ship at the expense of the environment and workers
health. With around 600 ships per year currently being scrapped,
and with the numbers increasing, this adds up to a very profitable
business. The export of hazardous waste from rich to poor countries
is banned but because these wastes are part of ships, unscrupulous
shipping companies were exploiting this as a loophole in
Clean ships for scrap
When we started the campaign calling for the ships to be
decontaminated before scrapping we were ridiculed by parts of the
shipping industry and ignored by others that thought they could
continue to operate outside the principle of international law.
we visited the ship breaking beaches in Asia to uncover the
appalling working conditions and heavily contaminated environments.
took action against companies knowingly dumping their toxic
ships for quick profit. We created a website to expose the bad
practices of the shipping industry and pressure it to change.
We put 50 ships due to be scrapped under
the spotlight to pressure their owners to clean them before
sending for scrapping. We recruited people involved in shipping
through the site to help us spot the ships on the list.
To complement the actions on the ground and the pressure through
the web our campaigners attended numerous unglamorous but
essential international meetings. This is where governments
meet to set rules and regulations governing waste trade and law of
the oceans. We lobbied hard for governments to close the loopholes
that the shipping industry were literally sailing hundreds of ships
a year through. But of course the shipping industry was also at all
these meetings as well, arguing for the profitable but destructive
status quo to remain.
After countless hours of paperwork and lobbying all over the
world, this work reached fruition at a meeting of the Basel
Convention where governments discuss laws that control the trade in
wastes. Despite opposition from the shipping industry supported by
familiar bad guy governments like US and Japan, governments decided
that the export of ships for scrap will be controlled.
At least on paper this means that shipbreaking will have to be
undertaken in an environmentally responsible manner and hazardous
wastes should be removed before export. The ruling is also timely
as new European Union regulations to outlaw single-hulled oil
tankers mean thousands of these tankers are destined for scrapping
in the next few years.
Of course we'll be remaining vigilant that this law is
implemented by the shipping industry and makes a real difference in
environmental and working conditions in the shipbreaking yards of
Asia. Also we will be watching closely governments like the US,
which true to current form haven't ratified international laws like
the Basel Convention. Maybe this has something to do with the fact
it's looking to get rid of several hundred rusting naval
There is still work to do tighten the controls on the dumping of
toxic ships and to fully ensure this definitely becomes a problem
of the past but this is a landmark victory on the road to that
Visit the ship
breaking site for background info, pictures and video.
Play the ship breaking "Tricks of
the Trade" game.
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