By Morten Rønning
After the Erika tanker sank outside Bretagne last December, some EU countries have called for an early scrapping of all single-hulled ships. The Norwegian Shipowners' Association fears huge negative effects on Norwegian shipowners, and wants a more long-term elimination of single-hulled ships, with a 2021 deadline.
If the proposal from EU members France and Spain is accepted, that all single-hulled ships should be eliminated by 2008-2010, the scrapping yards in Chittagong will get a lot to do. Conditions in Chittagong make these yards particularly suited to breaking up large tankers.
According to the Norwegian Shipowners' Association, a ban on single-hulled ships by 2008-2010 will effect 20 Norwegian ships aged between 15 and 26 years. It is illegal to build new ships with only a single hull, i. e. where the walls of the cargo tank are identical with the outer hull of the ship.
This summer, Greenpeace warned of several serious accidents linked to ship-breaking in Chittagong. The Iranian MV Deena and the MV Tanko, registered in Malta, exploded during ship-breaking on May 31 and June 14, respectively. The two accidents are supposed to have cost more than 40 lives. According to Greenpeace, the cause was faulty cleaning of the tanks before ship-breaking. Another explosion on July 27 cost two more lives.
Together with the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association, Greenpeace has warned Bangladeshi authorities against ignoring the environmental impacts and the hazardous working conditions involved in ship-breaking. The two organisations say Bangladesh is falling behind in environment and security, as compared to other ship-breaking nations such as India and China. As a result, ships that have not been cleaned will end up in Chittagong rather than in India, where tanks are required to be empty of explosive gases on arrival to the yards.
The Veritas study
The Norwegian Veritas was in Chittagong in February this year to carry out studies on environmental and working conditions in ship-breaking. This work is the follow-up on a 1998 report that the DNV made for Norway's Ministry of Environment and the Norwegian Shipowners' Association (see NW 4/99).
DNV made limited studies in Chittagong, but found high concentrations of pollutants, among them hydrocarbons, PCB, and heavy metals. The DNV traced the materials from the scrapping yards on to smelting works and other recycling. One firm they visited broke down asbestos by hand and sold it to the producers of new asbestos products. Work went on with no form of respiratory protection equipment.
The DNV report makes a number of recommendations, both on direct, short-term measures tied to the individual work operation - such as collection stations for oil - and an extended program for follow-up measurements of pollution in air, water, soil, the working environment, fish etcetera. The DNV also points to the possibilty of cleaning up the ships before they are set aground, by removing as much of the hazardous substances as possible alongside quay in Bangladesh, as is now done to e. g. electronic equipment.
Norwatch Newsletter 10/00