The coasts of South Asia are littered with ships packed with toxins such as asbestos, oil and other substances that are highly hazardous to humans and the environment. Often, the vessels are simply left for scrap, where they rust and leak, creating poisonous industrial graveyards.
The offthebeach.org website, according to a release by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, spearheads the group’s “Off the Beach” campaign, which it hopes will bring to light the dangers of hazardous shipbreaking practices and promote the clean recycling of ships. Bellona is one of 18 NGOs that comprise the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, and one of its founding members.
The research that constitutes the bulk of the website has also been replicated by Bellona, which has made a special effort to train a microscope on the Norwegian shipping industry’s practices of beaching ships in South Asia, and the results are not encouraging.[picture1]
The NGO Shipbreaking Platform‘s “Off the Beach” campaign targets not only shipping companies themselves, but also exposes the dangerous dumping practices of the shipping companies to freight and cargo customers as well, offering them a choice to boycott companies engaged in adding to ship garbage dumps.
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh hardest hit
More than 1,000 shipping companies have commercially benefited from selling their ships for breaking in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, cases that have a long history of labor rights violations and lead to astonishing environmental degradation, said the platform.
The new site documents the beaching of some 2,600 vessels since May 15, 2009 along the coasts of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The combined fleets of the shipowning companies exposed on the website comprise some 14,000 vessels.
Hong Kong Convention useless
The date from which data is presented on the new website ironically coincides with the adoption of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) Hong Kong Convention, which sought to curtail dangerous beaching practices – but fell so woefully short of its goals that even more ships have been beached yearly since its adoption.
“It is obvious that the Hong Kong Convention does nothing to prevent the dangerous beaching practices widely used today,” wrote the Platform in its statement, “nor does it have the aim to prevent such practices in the future.”
Bellona’s senior adviser Svend Søyland, who represents Bellona on the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, agreed.
“The convention […] is a toothless compromise devised in order that countries that continue scrapping on beaches would join,” he said, and pointed out that one of the flaws in the convention was that national authorities enforcing IMO decommissioning guidelines often have less power than the shipowners themselves.
He also pointed out that many shipowners proclaim their environmental credentials at home while chuffing their scrap ships off to foreign beaches.
“Several shipping companies have also joined the UN Global Compact, where companies promise to abide by all relevant UN conventions,” said Søyland. “It is indefensible they are allowed to continue shipbreaking on beaches while displaying the window dressing of responsible owners.”
The NGO Shipbreaking Platform’s new website will also showcase improvements made among shipping companies, which, since 2009, have made an effort to turn their neglectful shipbreaking practices around.
But Patrizia Heidegger, Executive Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, said in the release in remarks that paralleled Søyland’s that such companies were few and far between.
“Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, the vast majority of shipping companies continue to dump their old toxic ships on the beaches and laborers in South Asia, a practice which would, for instance, never be allowed in Europe, the US, Japan or China where most shipowners are based, said “Heidegger.
A recent Bellona investigation has revealed that the number of derelict vessels registered to Norwegian interests turning up on South Asian shores is by no means decreasing, said Bellona President Frederic Hauge.
“This shows that the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association’s (NSA’s) chatter about social responsibility is not working,” he said. “It must do some rethinking if it is to succeed in changing the behavior of its members, and I expect that to be implemented in the form of tidying up.”
Earlier this year, Bellona launched a new list of Norwegian shipbreaking offenders for the year 2012. The organization has now dug further into records dating back to 2009 to the present.
“This is the first time we have comprehensive data with analytical statistics,” said Hauge. “Bellona has now found a total of 107 ships connected to Norwegian interests that are being dismantled on Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi beaches from 2009 up to now.”
Using IMO registration numbers in various maritime databases, Bellona has been able to track ships along Asian beaches that were sold to local scrapping companies that are less than likely to observe environmentally responsible dismantling practices.
Many of the ships have changed owners and flags. The advantage for shipowners in pursuing such shady practices is that they can fetch higher prices for their scrapped vessels than they can by selling them to companies using internationally certified dry-docks for breaking.
Do Norwegian shipowners’ groups have teeth?
Hauge characterized the situation of the 107 beached Norwegian vessels that Bellona’s research revealed as both “alarming” and “damaging to Norway’s international reputation,” especially as many Norwegian companies scrap their ships in a safe manner.
Despite promised changes from the NSA in 2008, virtually nothing has changed, and the number of Norwegian ships beached in poisonous industrial graveyards actually increased by 10 percent between 2011 and 2012, said Hauge.
Hauge said the NSA must be pressed to explore new initiatives, meaning industry must begin to show tangible results in safe shipbreaking practices.
“It’s obvious that too many shipowners flout international conventions,” said Hauge. “The NSA and the Norwegian government cannot sit by idly and watch.”
The issue of whether the NSA even has enough clout to influence members to take social responsibility is in question, Hauge added.
Alternatives to beaching
Bellona is keen to point out that there are alternatives to dumping ships on beaches in poor nations.
“It is possible to scrap ships in an intelligent and environmentally sounds manner,” said Hauge.
“Shipowners on Bellona’s list can certainly chose other options than scrapping their ships on beaches,” he said, adding that, “When health and safety are at risk, these are not satisfactory solutions to
“When health, environment and safety are at risk, the acceptable solutions available are not that much more expensive, so Norwegian shipowners should bear the cost for responsible scrapping of the ships they have owned or operated for most of the ships’ lifetimes.”
Bellona’s ship tracking activities
Bellona was active in the 2005 establishment of the NGO Shiptbreaking Platform, an international coalition of environmental and human rights groups. The Platform is based in Brussels and Bellona is its only Norwegian member.
Bellona’s overview of the 107 beached Norwegian ships (downloadable to the right), 79 of which ended up in India, is designed to show the fundamental weakness of the Hong Kong Convention and its failure to change the behavior of shipping companies.
Of the vessels on the list, all have significant Norwegian interests. Some are owned directly by Norwegian interests, and therefore under Norway’s direct liability, while others are chartered or on long term lease to Norwegian interests.
Bellona says that Norwegian shipping companies have a moral responsibility for vessels they hire and use for years before they are resold for scrap. Thus shipping companies noted on the list are categorized under the international term “beneficial owner.”
Expatriate Norwegian shipowners or international joint ventures that represent significant Norwegian interests are defined on the list as “Norwegian interests.”
Some information on the list is taken from open and free sources on the internet. The remainder is sourced from shipping registers that require payment to access documentation.
The following elements are included on the list:
“Beneficial owner”, name of ship, flag of ship, IMO number, ship type, subcategory of ship, build date, date of decommissioning, site of decommissioning, and price per ton of steel recovered from scrapping operations.
Bellona Senior Advisor Svend Søyland: Tel. +47 474 87 930; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Communications Coordinator Magnus Borgen: Tel. +47 977 28 476; email: email@example.com