EEP European Environmental Press

Brussels - Solutions for the responsible recycling of ships

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Source: EEP European Environmental Press

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Stavros Dimas, member of the European Commission, Responsible for Environment said: “The dismantling or recycling of ships is a pressing environmental, economic and social issue of a global dimension in which the EU can and should play an important role. We fully share the concerns expressed regarding the significant environmental and safety problems involved. The problems are acute and for that reason the issue is one of the top priorities on the Commission's agenda. We have to ensure correct application of Community legislation, but at the same time, we have to assess the options that can be used to improve the situation from a broader perspective.

In most cases, the dismantling of ships today is not done properly. For example, ships are dismantled on beaches in Southern Asia under poor conditions that put workers' health and safety and the environment at risk. The information made available to us by the International Labour Organisation, and by NGOs concerned with the environment and human rights, shows that too many workers are killed or injured by accidents or are exposed to toxic substances. On the environmental side, because there exists no adequate equipment needed to deal with the hazardous substances contained in old ships - such as asbestos, oil sludge and PCBs - there is pollution of the water and soil in these coastal areas, which in turn affects natural habitats and fishing grounds.

The EU is seeking to make shipping safer. For example, we want to prevent further environmental disasters like the “Prestige” and “Erika”. We have therefore introduced and supported the obligatory phasing-out of single-hull tankers under Community legislation and international conventions. As a consequence, the number of end-of-life ships to be scrapped will increase considerably in the next few years. This increase has not happened yet to the extent predicted, mainly because ships are being used for longer to meet transport needs in Asia. But it is certain to come eventually, and because of our mandatory phasing-out legislation, we are responsible to ensure that the solution of one environmental problem does not aggravate another.

From a point of view of EU legislation, ships destined to be dismantled or recycled are considered as waste. In this respect, the European Commission has a direct role to play, by making sure that these ships are treated, transferred and recycled according to our waste legislation. Similarly, end-of-life ships that contain hazardous substances are to be treated according to the rules that apply to the treatment of hazardous waste, especially the rules concerning their movements. We consider that the transfer of ships containing hazardous substances from the EU to countries outside the OECD constitutes export of hazardous waste. This is prohibited under both the Basel Convention and the European Union's Waste Shipment Regulation. The Commission will not hesitate to ensure that this prohibition is properly applied and enforced in the Member States.

This was recently the case of the Clemenceau. The French air carrier had set sail to India in order to be recycled. It was made known to the Commission that the vessel had not been fully removed of its hazardous substances, especially asbestos. I took a specific interest in this case and asked for additional information from the French government and more particularly from the Minister Olin. Eventually, the French government made the right considerations and took the correct decision to recall the Clemenceau back home in order to prepare it for safe recycling.

It is therefore indispensable for the European Union to take action in relation to ship recycling. Although we are in favour of pushing for an international solution, I maintain that we should also seek an internal EU-wide solution to the problem. Acting at EU level will help us set the right environmental and health and safety standards that should be followed in other parts of the world. In addition to that, we have to set the example within the European Union, not least because we are responsible for part of the problem, for instance, because of our important shipping activities, or because of our phasing-out rules applying to single-hull vessels.

There is a positive momentum forming up within the European Union and I find the current context favourable for pursuing an EU-wide approach to the problem. The interest shown in this matter by several Member States, such as France, Germany and the UK - to mention just a few -, by other Community institutions, such as the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, and by the relevant stakeholders, such as NGOs and the industry, is a sign of encouragement, which makes me feel confident that we will soon find the right and balanced way to regulate the safe recycling of ships.”

(EC/2006-04-25)

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