Breaking up old ideas

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Old ships never die or so we’re told; the reality is that in 2017 more than 800 of them were recycled, which means a final voyage, the right certification from the flag and a choice of ultimate destination. Whatever form it comes back in, the truth is that at some stage shipbreaking becomes the last port of call. While this practice is under attack from some environmental crusaders and NGOs, the rules and view of the shipping world are changing.

The recent announcement of the Ship Recycling Transparency Initiative (SRI) online platform to share information on ship recycling follows on from the desire of a group of shipping companies to collectively drive responsible practices in this particular area. Yes, 800+ ships were recycled last year but that was from a worldwide fleet of 50,000, so there’s a great deal more to come in what is a profitable business in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Now the pressure is on from the IMO, the EU and the environmental crusaders to control what it regarded as a risky undertaking with significant risks for the environment, occupational health and safety of those working on these ‘dead vessels’ on the beaches of these countries.

There is little doubt that the industry operates without internationally agreed standards and much of the work on the beaches of unregulated breakers comes from unprotected workers and often young children. The aim of the new initiative – one of a number of those targeting such practices worldwide – is to make better informed decisions for shippers, lenders, investors and insurers involved in these vessels.

The SRTI is an online platform enabling shipping companies to disclose relevant information on ship recycling and brings together many of the leading shipowners, insurers, banks and investors, cargo owners, as well as other key stakeholders in the maritime industry. Among the early supports of the initiative are: The China Navigation Company, Wallenius Wilhelmsen, Hapag-Lloyd, Stolt Tankers, A.P. Moeller-Maersk, Norden, and those with financial interests in shipping such as GES, Standard Chartered Bank, Nykredit and also Lloyd’s Register.

The IMO project to develop safe and environmentally sound ship recycling in Bangladesh has been launched only this November and the project is being funded with a financial agreement from the Government of Norway. The drive is on to ensure that this recycling of old ships develops better practices globally: this is laudable and is taking place while the Hong Kong Convention (adopted in 2009 but not yet in force) becomes the aim of these ‘shipyards.’ The good news is that these targets include regulations for shipowners, recycling facilities, flag and recycling states to ensure that the process of recycling ships does not pose any unnecessary risks to human health, safety and the environment. What it fails to say is anything about the impact on those living in these regions that rely solely on these ships to provide a living.

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