For decades, the European shipping industry has taken decommissioned vessels to China to be recycled. This practice is popular because of China’s relaxed environmental regulations and high margin of profit for the scrapped metal. However, beginning on January 1, 2019, European ship owners will no longer be able to scrap their ships in China as the government has added old ships to its growing list of prohibited imports.
Beijing claims that it has implemented the ban in the name of environmentalism, with the start of the ban coinciding with the introduction of the 2013 European Ship Recycling Regulation, which aims to make the recycling of ships in Europe both safer and more environmentally sound.
There are fears within the industry that China’s retreat, along with the new regulation could drastically cut recycling options for EU-flagged ships. Currently there are no EU facilities on the white list that meet the 2013 European Ship Recycling Regulations for owners to go to.
However, Ingvild Jenssen, Founder and director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform believes that the 21 EU-based facilities currently on the list are more than capable of recycling European end-of-life fleet. She says:
It is a disgrace that shipowners spend more time coming up with bad excuses not to follow legislation – which was agreed upon in 2013 and will make ship recycling a much cleaner and safer practice – than finding alternatives to the dangerous and polluting practice of beaching.
There is capacity in the EU to recycle ships properly, and the yards on the EU list can take in many more – and larger – vessels than what they recycle today. It boils down to not accepting the profits made when selling to yards that ignore occupational safety and environmental protection standards.
The practice of ship-breaking (aka beaching)
Many vessels contain hazardous materials like asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals.
Major ship recycling nations such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan do not have the appropriate facilities to safely dismantle these ships, and the work takes place on tidal beaches, leading to leaks of pollutants into the waters, as well as fires, explosions and countless human rights violations. Despite these widely known facts, India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan jointly recycle almost 80% of the world’s vessels.