IMO Guidelines on ship recycling promote continuation of illegal practice

Press release - 18 July, 2003

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) today concluded its five-day meeting in London to address the environmental safety and health problems associated with shipbreaking. Guidelines were adopted by the Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) and recommended for adoption by the IMO Assembly in November.

The new guidelines are not consistent with the Basel Convention that regulates the export of hazardous waste and they accept that hazardous substances are being exported to Asia. While the practical measures suggested in the Guidelines are a step forward, they are still not sufficient to match the requirements of the existing international law and thus still illegal.

Greenpeace believes that the practice proposed in the guidelines is nevertheless a significant step forward for the shipping industry. Ships will now have to carry a Green Passport specifying what hazardous substances are on board. Shipbuilders now have to start building clean ships. Ship owners have been given the responsibility to work on a programme for clean shiprecycling for the whole fleet.

Greenpeace concludes there is still a fundamental gap between the IMO guidelines and the accepted principles and legislation under the Basel Convention. A fatal assumption in the IMO Guidelines is that the industry can still freely export the ship without decontaminating it prior to breaking. This means continuing the export of hazardous waste.

The guidelines are not based on the internationally recognised Polluter Pays principle. The burden for the responsibility for handling hazardous waste is exclusively put in the hands of the workers on the shipbreaking yards.

"What we saw this week is a strong effort by some powerful shipping countries to resist international waste treaties regulating the shipping industry. In doing so these countries effectively promoted the current illegal transport of hazardous substances and the allowed environmental pollution to continue," said Marietta Harjono, Greenpeace campaigner attending the IMO meeting.

By adopting these Guidelines the IMO denied the urgent request from the European Commission to stop the current illegal practice in the issue of exporting toxic ships to shipbreaking yards in developing countries (1). Greenpeace is concerned that the new Guidelines can still be used to cover up the illegal business. This means the environment and people in Asia will still continue to be exposed to hazardous substances.

VVPR info: Photos available from John Novis, Greenpeace International Photo Desk,Mob: +31653819121

Notes: (1) See letter, dated July 11 from European Commissioner Wallstrom to IMO, ILO and the Basel Convention.