ECSA Backs Maersk on Alang Shipbreaking
On Friday, the European Community Shipowner Association entered the public debate on ship recycling standards with a statement in favor of allowing EU-flagged vessels to be demolished at certified beaching yards in South Asia.
The European Commission has implemented a ship recycling regulation which permits beaching in theory, but bans the felling of cut hull sections onto the beach – a practice that is required for some parts of process, even for upgraded yards, says Maersk's director of group sustainability, Annette Stube. She describes the strict EU ban on traditional gravity felling as a failure to distinguish between toxic and non-toxic materials, as (she asserts) dropping pre-cleaned hull sections on a tidal flat is not an activity that needs to be regulated with the same level of stringency applied to the disposal of toxic wastes. ECSA Secretary General Patrick Verhoeven echoed her sentiments in his statement: "The guidelines on which recyling yards have to base their application do not differentiate between hazardous and non-hazardous waste which de facto excludes all yards in India, even the most advanced ones," he said. "We believe that this is disproportionate and will simply discourage yards from making further investments to raise standards."
Ship recycling advocates in the EU and in India have generally opposed beaching on environmental and labor rights grounds, like the dispersal of paint and slag into the intertidal zone and allegedly poor accommodations standards for workers.
This week, the Clean Shipping Coalition asserted that Maersk will reflag its obsolete vessels, removing them from the scope of the regulation and allowing the use of beaching yards – an eventuality that advocates and government authorities long anticipated. John Maggs, senior policy advisor at Seas At Risk and president of the Coalition, expressed firm opposition to the prospect. “Maersk is a European company and should abide by European laws. Suggesting that it might use a flag of convenience to escape EU ship breaking rules designed to protect the environment and worker safety is scandalous, and will seriously undermine its credibility as a responsible ship owner and operator,” he said.
Sotiris Raptis, shipping officer at Transport & Environment, added that “while Maersk supports innovation in reducing air polluting emissions, this move shows a cavalier attitude towards the environmental impacts of dismantling ships in the intertidal zone . . . Maersk needs to reverse course on practices that it previously denounced and that would never be allowed in Europe." (As Raptiris suggests, Maersk used to share NGOs' views on ship recycling: in 2013, Maersk Line’s head of sustainability Jacob Sterling – now global head of product management – wrote that the firm agreed with the call to end beaching, citing poor workplace safety statistics.)
ECSA countered Maggs and Raptiris' claims, saying that it supports shipowners' decisions to engage with select Alang yards. It described Maersk's choice as a way to drive much-needed change in the largest sector of the ship recycling industry (South Asian yards handle 70 percent of the world's obsolete vessels). “This is not a matter of lowering standards, but rather to the contrary a way of rewarding those recycling facilities that have now raised their standards to match those of leading shipowners”, said Patrick Verhoeven. “By committing tonnage to responsible facilities in Alang, these shipowners also commit staff and resources to monitor and share best practices, effectively shaping the future of the region.”