Highest court in Netherlands says scrap ship is toxic waste

Toxic scrap ship Sandrien is not allowed to go to Asian scrap beach

Press release - 19 June, 2002

Greenpeace action at Alang shipbreaking yard

The Highest Court in the Netherlands, the Council of State in The Hague, has today ruled that a ship destined for scrapping in India which contains asbestos, heavy metals and other toxic materials, should be classified as toxic waste. This is the first ever legal recognition that a ship containing asbestos must be treated as hazardous waste. It sets a vital precedent that in future all scrap ships must be cleaned of toxic materials before being sent to shipbreaking-yards.

The ship, the Sandrien, which has been detained in Amsterdam by the Ministry of Environment since February 2001, is not now allowed to leave for India to be scrapped. If broken up the Sandrien would release its toxic contents, causing damage both to humans and the environment.

"This ruling sets an important precedent for the future of dealing with scrap ships," said Mariëtta Harjono, Greenpeace campaigner. "The verdict on the Sandrien will bring international legislation on scrap ships a little bit closer."

Said P.K. Ganguly from the CITU, one of the biggest trade unions in India, "CITU welcomes the decision of the Dutch court which sends an important signal to ship owners. Only with international legislation on scrap ships can workers and the environment be protected. By bringing this case the Environment Minister Pronk has won a victory for Indian workers and the environment."

Now it is necessary to find a solution as quickly as possible for the Sandrien and her crew. It is likely that the ship owner who abandoned his responsibility towards his employees will not be seen again. The stranded crew are still waiting for overdue wages, and for repatriation to India.

Every year hundreds of ships are sent to India for scrapping where the work is done in miserable conditions and without proper equipment. But this number will increase in the next few years as all single-hull oil tankers must stop trading before 2015. International legislation is urgently needed to ensure that scrap ships are stripped of all toxic material before they may be exported to breakers yards in Asia.

According to international and European legislation [1] it is forbidden to export toxic waste to developing countries. Today's important new verdict from the Council of State makes it clear that the international shipping industry must strip ships of toxic materials before sending them for scrapping. The ruling should also encourage other countries to detain any ships they think may be toxic.

VVPR info: For footage of scrap beaches contact: Mim Lowe + 31 20-5249543

Notes: (1) The Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes is an international convention under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme. The Convention was drafted in response to growing complaints from developing countries of hazardous waste dumping by industrialised nations. The Basel Ban amendment of the Convention prohibits the export of hazardous wastes from rich countries to developing countries for any purpose.