Shipping company calls for international mandatory regulation to stop deadly effects of toxic ships sent to Asia for scrap

Press release - 10 June, 2003
One of the world's biggest shipping companies, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), conceded today that international mandatory regulations are necessary to protect workers and prevent environmental pollution at Asian shipbreaking yards. MSC also made it clear that it is not willing to step forward and start to clean its ships while the industry as a whole is allowed to continue sending ships contaminated with hazardous substances to Asia.

The call for regulation came as Greenpeace and a delegation of three people from India and Bangaldesh involved with shipbreaking yards in India and Bangladesh (1) rang twenty ship bells in front of the company's headquarters in Geneva, taken from toxic ships from around the world that have recently been scrapped in Asia. The noisy protest was staged to remind MSC and other shipping companies of the impact their toxic ships have on people and the environmental. Only three weeks ago, on May 19th, seven people died at the Alang shipbreaking yard in India because a contaminated ship exploded while it was being scrapped. On 22nd March, a further 10 people died when the Greek oil tanker 'Amina' caught fire while being scrapped because it had not been emptied of oil and gas residues prior to arrival at the scrapyard.

"The problems at shipbreaking yards are huge," said Mr Salim a shipbreaker from the Chittagong yard in Bangladesh, speaking from Geneva. "Waste materials from the ships mixes with mud and water and pollutes the environment. Asbestos from the ships enters the body of the workers and causes lung cancer and other deadly diseases. MSC's call for regulation today is encouraging but, until we get a full commitment from the company that it will clean its entire fleet before exporting it for scrap, we'll continue to do all we can to remind the company that of its responsibilities for human lives in Asia," he added.

Since 1999, the Swiss-owned company has sent 22 ships to breaking yards in India or Bangladesh. These ships contained hazardous substances like asbestos, PCB oil, heavy metals, heavy oil and potential explosives. When they were scrapped, these substances entered the environment causing severe environmental pollution and workers exposed to the substances face a risk of disease or accidents. MSC owns around 200 ships, some of which will be scrapped in the near future.

"The lives of over 10,000 workers in Asia are at risk," said Ramapati Kumar from Greenpeace in India. "Greenpeace has documented hundreds of cases in which industrialised countries have either traded or transferred toxic waste problems to developing countries such as India and Bangladesh. We welcome MSC's words today but the environment and workers lives will not be saved until this dirty export stops. International, mandatory regulations must be enforced immediately," he concluded.

The Basel Convention forbids the export of hazardous substances from richer to poorer countries (OECD to non-OECD). However, Greenpeace recently exposed that various loopholes in the treaty are being used by the shipping industry (2) to enable it to evade responsibility for this particular form of toxic dumping. Research by Greenpeace has shown that companies, such as MSC, profit extensively from the current practice of shipbreaking. They earn an average of 2 million dollars per ship that is sent it to be scrapped at breaking yards in SouthEast Asia yet still fail to pay for the vessels to be cleaned.

The delegation from the Asian shipbreaking yards is scheduled to meet with Swiss authorities tomorrow. They will continue to press the need for a truly mandatory regime from the International Maritime Organisation to prevent the ongoing tragedies at the shipbreaking yards.

Notes: Interviews with the delegation involved with Asian shipbreaking yards are available on request. (1) Today's protest by Greenpeace and people from Asian shipbreaking countries is part of a European tour to call on the shipping industry to take responsibility for their vessels and to clean them of dangerous substances prior to export for scrap. The delegation has already met with shipping companies and politicians in The Netherlands and Greece who supported the need for an international mandatory regime and agreed that the current rules are not good enough to stop environmental pollution and health damage. The tour will take the delegation to London, Luxembourg and Belgium and to European authorities. It is scheduled to finish on June 21. (2) see