MAC: Mines and Communities

Breaking tradition: the toxic legacy

Published by MAC on 2008-11-24

Overshadowed by concern over the "international threat" of piracy on the high seas, the danger of asbestos exposure to workers who break up merchant ships in south Asia gets short shrift in the media.

Now the European Union has proposed a new international convention to protect ship breakers from being affected by this and other toxic materials.

However, the convention is not expected to come into force until 2015; meanwhile thousands more people are likely to suffer an agonising and lingering death.

Scrapped Ships Must Be Broken Safely, EU Says

PlanetArk BELGIUM:

20th November 2008

BRUSSELS - Ship breaking which can expose workers to asbestos and other hazards must be done more safely to cut down on high accident rates, health risks and pollution, the European Union said on Wednesday.

"Workers in South Asia are being exploited and their lives put at risk working in deplorable conditions, while coastal areas are being polluted and ecosystems threatened," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said in a statement.

The statement contained proposals for a new international convention on ship breaking.

Between 200 and 600 large merchant ships are taken apart for their valuable scrap metal every year and most of those removed from service in Europe end up being broken on beaches in South Asia, the statement said.

The demolition takes place mainly in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, providing thousands of jobs. Health and safety conditions are poor, however, as labourers work on vessels containing hazardous materials such as asbestos.

France was forced to recall a decommissioned battleship -- the Clemenceau -- from Indian yards in 2006 following widespread protests from environmental groups because the ship contained an estimated 270 tonnes of asbestos and other toxic substances.

The International Maritime Organisation is preparing a globally binding convention to provide comprehensive control and enforcement on safe ship recycling.

Negotiations for the convention are due to finish by May 2009, but it is not expected to enter into force before 2015.

The statement from the Executive Commission, executive arm of the 27-nation EU, proposed measures including the following:

* Technical assistance and support to developing countries for safety training and basic infrastructure for environmental and health protection.

* Enforcement of waste shipment rules such as more checks at European ports; establishing a list of ships ready for scrapping.

* Making warships and other government vessels subject to EU rules for clean dismantling if not covered by the convention.

(Reporting by Bate Felix; editing by Michael Roddy)


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