Obsolete toxic ship dumping to be controlled

Press release - October 29, 2004
The global trade in toxic ships for scrap was dealt a serious blow today in Geneva when the Basel Convention affirmed that ships can be considered toxic waste under international law and that its 163 signatories must control the export of ships under the terms of the Convention. Greenpeace and Basel Action Network (BAN) described the decision as a major victory.

In 1995 the Basel Convention banned the export of hazardous wastes, including products for recycling from developed to developing countries. However, hazardous wastes contained as components in old ships such as asbestos, PCBs, toxic paints and fuel residues have continued to be sent to countries such as India, Turkey, Bangladesh and China. Today, by explicitly declaring redundant ships as waste that ship-sized loop hole has been closed.

"This is a major step towards ensuring that the people and the environments of the world's ship breaking countries no longer have to bear the burden of the shipping industry's toxic trash," said Marietta Harjono of Greenpeace. "At a time when some 2,200 single hull oil tankers are due to be scrapped, the decision could not have come a day too soon. With today's decision we can work to avoid solving one environmental crisis by creating another in ship breaking countries."

Under the decision, the 163 signatories to the Basel Convention must now apply the Basel Convention to ships destined for breaking. They must prohibit exports without the consent of recipient countries, and must assure that shipbreaking is performed in an environmentally sound manner and minimize the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes.

The latter obligation can be expected to increase demands for decontamination of ships prior to export which had been urged during the meeting by the shipbreaking countries of India, Bangladesh, and Turkey. It will also create new demand for the development of 'green' ship recycling capacity in developed countries.

Many in the shipping industry opposed the Basel Convention's involvement in this issue, hoping instead that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) would assume total control over end-of-life ships and impose far less rigorous standards. The United States, Japan, and representatives of the shipping industry fought in vain to block the decision.

In a last minute statement, the US which is not a Basel signatory, denounced the decision arguing that it does not believe end of life ships are waste. The US is currently seeking a home for its fleet of redundant naval 'ghost ships'.

The decision recognised the need to assist in the improvement of existing shipbreaking facilities in developing countries. It also recognised the work taking place in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and encouraged them to likewise seek to address some of the outstanding issues with respect to end-of-life ships in their own regime.

"The Basel Convention decided that while the IMO is welcome to help solve aspects of the problem in the future, Basel must begin to solve it today," said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network (BAN). "They vowed to fulfill their existing obligations and prevent the cheap and dirty dumping of toxic ships on some of the poorest communities on earth - a situation that really is the shame of shipping, killing a person per day, either from the slow death by cancer, or from the violent death from gas explosions."

VVPR info: www.greenpeaceweb.org/shipbreak

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