MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Potentially toxic ship gets docked by UK watchdog

Published by MAC on 2009-09-01

For the first time, Britain’s Environment Agency has prevented an ocean-going vessel leaving home waters, to be scrapped overseas.

There are suspicions that the tanker might be heading outside the European Union, or to a non-OECD state such as India or Bangladesh.

These two countries are notorious as a destination for vessels contaminated with asbestos and toxic metals.

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Environment Agency Bars Tanker From Leaving UK for Scrapping

ENS

13 August 2009

SOUTHAMPTON, UK - On the suspicion it was heading overseas for illegal dismantling, the Environment Agency has prevented a tanker ship, the Margaret Hill, from leaving the UK. This is the first time these powers have been used to stop a ship from leaving a UK port.

Late on August 5, the Environment Agency was made aware of concerns regarding the proposed sailing of the Margaret Hill, a 50,700 tonne liquid natural gas tanker, currently docked in Southampton.

Information provided by the the Maritime and Coastguard Agency suggested the ship, which is likely to contain hazardous materials such as asbestos, was destined for dismantling at an undisclosed facility abroad.

Liz Parkes, head of waste and resource management at the Environment Agency, said, "Prompt investigation carried out by Environment Agency officers using the intelligence provided by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has ensured that this ship does not leave the UK until we are clear about what is happening to it."

Under international law, anyone intending to send a waste ship from England and Wales abroad for dismantling must first obtain permission from the Environment Agency and the equivalent regulators in the proposed destination country.

"There are rules in place to ensure waste ships do not end up in developing countries, and cause damage to people and the environment," said Parkes. "The Environment Agency will only give permission for a waste ship to be exported if it is going to an authorized recycling site in a country that wants to accept it and has necessary agreements in place."

Waste ships containing hazardous materials can only be dismantled at properly authorized dismantling facilities in either the European Union or a country that is a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

They cannot be sent to dismantling facilities in countries outside the EU or OECD such as India or Bangladesh.

Since the Environment Agency has not received nor approved any application to export the Margaret Hill, it has used its powers to put a temporary stop on the export of the ship to prevent any potential contravention of the rules on waste exports.

Parkes said the agency is working with the ship's owner and other parties to investigate the status of the Margaret Hill.

"We are continuing our discussions with those involved, including the finance company who recently took possession of the ship," she said, "to establish what is happening to it and to make them aware of the procedures that must be followed if they intend the ship to be exported for recycling.

The Margaret Hill was launched in 1974 in Norway as the LNG Challenger. She has had a string of names, most recently she was the Hoegh Galleon until her sale in 2007 to Maverick LNG Holdings who renamed her Margaret Hill.

Ship scrapping is big business.

In Bangladesh, which currently has the world's largest ship recycling industry, the industry employs 25,000 workers in approximately 25 yards. It is estimated that 500,000 people are indirectly employed by the industry in downstream sectors.

Over 95 percent of a ship can be recycled, the majority of which is steel, which provides Bangladesh with 80 percent of its current steel requirements, mainly for construction.

But workers and the environment are at risk of contamination by the toxic wastes such as asbestos, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, ozone-depleting substances, and PCBs in the ships they are scrapping.

A new international treaty, the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, was adopted in May 2009. It was adopted at a diplomatic conference held in Hong Kong, China, from May 11-15, 2009, attended by delegates from 63 countries.

The new treaty intends to address all the issues around ship recycling, including concerns raised about the working and environmental conditions at many ship recycling locations.

The text was developed over the past three years, with input from member governments of the International Maritime Organization and nongovernmental organizations, and in cooperation with the International Labour Organization and the Parties to the Basel Convention.

Regulations in the new convention cover the design, construction, operation and preparation of ships so as to facilitate safe and environmentally sound recycling, without compromising the safety and operational efficiency of ships.

The convention also regulates the operation of ship recycling facilities in a safe and environmentally sound manner; and the establishment of an appropriate enforcement mechanism for ship recycling, incorporating certification and reporting requirements.

Ships to be sent for recycling will be required to carry an inventory of hazardous materials, specific to each ship.

An appendix to the convention will provide a list of hazardous materials the installation or use of which is prohibited or restricted in shipyards, ship repair yards, and ships of Parties to the Convention. Ships will be required to have an initial survey to verify the inventory of hazardous materials, additional surveys during the life of the ship, and a final survey prior to recycling.

Ship recycling yards will be required to provide a Ship Recycling Plan, to specify the manner in which each ship will be recycled, depending on its particulars and its inventory. Parties will be required to take effective measures to ensure that ship recycling facilities under their jurisdiction comply with the convention.

The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships shall be open for signature by any government from September 1, 2009. It will enter into force 24 months after the date on which 15 governments, representing 40 percent of world merchant shipping by gross tonnage, have ratified the treaty.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.

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