The Blog

Making the Recycling of Maritime Vessels Shipshape

The European Parliament is now working on making sure that the recycling of maritime vessels is done in a shipshape manner.

Ships can prove dangerous, not only when navigating icebergs Titanic-style, but even after they have gone on to meet their manufacturer. If done wrongly, dismantling a ship can put workers at risk and lead to hazardous materials being released into the environment. The European Parliament is now working on making sure that the recycling of maritime vessels is done in a shipshape manner.

Existing rules say any ship from the EU should be dismantled within the OECD to ensure any onboard hazardous materials are handled properly and safely, but these rules are routinely ignored by ship owners. According to the European Commission, in 2009 more than 90% of EU ships were taken apart outside the OECD, mostly in South Asia, using the controversial beaching method. It involves stranding a ship as near to the beach as possible at high tide and cutting it apart in big chunks using nothing but blow torches and gravity. This makes it impossible to contain hazardous materials, thus exposing the workers to cancer-causing chemicals and releasing much of the waste into the environment. It has been estimated that the scrapping of ships will release as much as 5.5 million tonnes of potentially hazardous materials such as asbestos and oils between 2006 and 2015.

To encourage ship owners to comply with the rules, the Commission has proposed setting up a list of approved recycling facilities that meet EU standards, but MEPs worry that this would do too little to tackle the financial reasons they opt for the more dangerous beaching method.

Parliament's environment committee wants to create financial incentives for scrapping ships safely and is calling for a recycling levy that would be used to make approved recycling facilities more competitive.

Under the proposal by Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter, a fee would have to be paid by all ships using EU ports based on their tonnage. The fees would go to a fund that would issue premiums for the actual recycling done by facilities that comply with European legislation. Charging the levy on port calls would prevent companies evading it by reregistering their ship outside the EU. Ship owners would also be fined for having their vessels dismantling at a non-approved facility.

However, the proposal could still get shipwrecked as it still needs to be approved by Parliament during a full plenary session in the months to come and by the Council after that.

Photo copyright @mjb