The challenge: no level playing field for responsible ship recycling

The social and environmental risks of ship recycling are well-documented and recognised to include environmental, occupational health and safety risks, as well as community health and safety exposure. In addition, other risks include poor social standards pertaining to lack of access to appropriate health care, wages, working hours, collective bargaining and freedom of association.

Despite these significant risks, there are no effective global regulations in force to ensure a consistent approach to ship recycling. International conventions provide only partial coverage of material aspects associated with ship recycling. There are also no generally accepted voluntary standards that could help fill this regulatory gap.

As a result, shipowners, ship recyclers and other stakeholders in the ship recycling value chain have different policies and practices that often are not clearly defined. Because of this, good practice does not always get rewarded and bad practice can often go unchecked, resulting in the continued existence of shipyards where people are working under conditions and the surrounding environment and marine life being negatively impacted. Voluntary business incentives are lacking for shipowners to take responsibility for their ships and be proactive in changing the existing industry narrative on ship recycling.

The opportunity: responsible ship recycling and informed decisions through voluntary disclosure

We believe that through the simple act of companies being transparent about their approach to ship recycling, we can support improved policy, practice and performance as well as help investors, cargo owners and other stakeholders to be accountable for their supply chain.

Making current polices and practices transparent will raise the profile of ship recycling; put pressure on under performers; identify barriers to improved performance; and build trust across the shipping industry.

We aim to

improve transparency in the ship recycling value chain
increase shipowners’ disclosure of ship recycling policies and practices
help cargo owners, investors and other stakeholders to make informed decisions when using shipping companies and to support improved performance
create a level playing field for shipowners on ship recycling, covering the entire vessel lifespan

What is ship recycling?

Ship recycling is the process of dismantling the ship that happens at the end of its life. It includes all the associated operations including mooring, dismantling, recovery of materials and reprocessing.

According to the Hong Kong Convention, ship recycling means “the activity of complete or partial dismantling of a ship at a ship recycling facility in order to recover components and materials for reprocessing and re-use, whilst taking care of hazardous and other materials, and includes associated operations such as storage and treatment of components and materials on site, but not their further processing or disposal in separate facilities.”

For a step-by-step description of the ship recycling process, read about the story of the Heidelberg Express that was recycled in 2015.

Why, when, where and how are ships recycled?

WHY: More than 95% of a ship can be reused or recycled. By assessing the environmental and safety impacts from the cradle to the grave, shipowners are taking responsibility for their fleet across the full ship lifecycle. Recycling ships is a means for the shipping industry to step up its role in contributing to a more sustainable shipping industryas well as accelerating the circular economy.

WHEN: Most ocean-bound vessels have an average expected lifespan of 20-30 years, but they can be sent for recycling at various points in their lifecycle. In most cases it’s simply due to their age, but sometimes poor market conditions can end a vessel’s active life earlier than planned. A recent example of this is when excess container supply caused many older container ships to be pulled from service much earlier than expected. New regulations may also result in the outdating of a vessel. For a vessel already approaching its later years, it may not be economically viable to retrofit new technologies to bring it up to standard.

WHERE: According to the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, in 2017 the top three destinations for ships at the end of their lives were India (239 ships); Bangladesh (197); and Pakistan (107). These were followed by China (98) and Turkey (133), with 61 ships scrapped in other countries.

HOW: There are several methods to recycle a ship, each offering different levels of environmental impact and regulatory compliance. Ship recycling can be carried out on beaches, using dry-dock facilities or the craned berth method whereby a vessel is tied up alongside a jetty. Ship recycling can draw on both cranes and manual labour.

What are the key global regulations and guidelines relevant to ship recycling?

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (Basel Convention) is a global environmental treaty on hazardous and other wastes adopted in 1989 and entered into force in 1992. It aims to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the movement of hazardous waste.187 states and the European Union are currently parties to the Convention (December 2018).

The Hong Kong International Convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships (Hong Kong Convention) was adopted in 2009 but has not entered into force. Recognising ship recycling as the most environmentally sound way to dispose of a ship at the end of its life, the Hong Kong Convention obliges shipowners to produce and keep on board an Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM). It also requires the creation of a ship-specific recycling plan and states that recycling must take place at an authorised facility.

While not legally binding, the International Labour Organization’s Safety and health in shipbreaking: Guidelines for Asian countries and Turkey  offer assistance for the implementation of the relevant provisions of ILO standards, codes of practice and other guidelines on occupational safety and health and working conditions.

European Union

The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted the Ship Recycling Regulation in 2013, bringing forward the requirements of the Hong Kong Convention and aiming to reduce the negative impacts linked to the recycling of EU-flagged vessels.

From 31 December 2018, large commercial EU-flagged vessels may be recycled only ship recycling facilities that comply with a number of safety and environmental requirements and that are included in the European List of Ship Recycling Facilities.