By Øsgeir Johansen and Morten Rønning
So far this year, Frontline, Bergesen d.y., Ugland International and Jahre Dahl Bergesen have sold the ships Forest Sovereign, Berge Septimus, UB Pearl, and Jahre Spray. Bergesen sold its ship to China, while Frontline and Ugland sold to India. Jahre Spray was sold to Bangladesh. NorWatch has earlier reported on the conditions of the ship-breaking industry in Asia, without meeting very much understanding from the shipping companies. Later, both the association of Norwegian shipowners and the Norwegian authorities have involved themselves in the debate.
After the case became a media issue, both Norwegian authorities, through the Ministry of Environment (MD), and the Norwegian shipowners' association (NRF) have become involved, and have addressed it in the relevant forums. Both the MD and the NRF think that the sale of ships for scrapping should be regulated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which can implement a flag state regime. This implies that a possible set of regulations will be the same for all ratifying states.
There are doubts as to whether the Basel convention can adequately fight down this evil. Norwegian authorities have chosen to address the issue in IMO because they belive there will be several loopholes for the shipping companies if regulations are implemented through the Basel convention.
It is claimed that the shipping companies can avoid the Basel convention by the re-registration of the ship, from for example Norway to Panama, or by selling the ship to another country while it is still a ship, which means that it has the necessary certificates.
- A common misunderstanding is that, according to the Basel convention the seller is not defined by the flag, but rather by who takes the decision to discard the ship, says Jim Puckett in the American pressure group Basel Action Network (BAN). BAN is a global network of organisations working to prevent the spread of hazardous waste to developing countries and newly industrialized countries. In particular, BAN has fought against the sales of ships for break-up in Asia. Puckett still belives that IMO should be engaged to fight down this evil.
Norwegian authorities have claimed that the Basel convention is insufficient to regulate the sales of discarded ships, as it only regulates international transport of waste. This implies that a Norwegian-owned ship which is docked in Dubai and then sold to Indian ship-breakers, does not cross the Norwegian border, and therefore cannot be considered exported from Norway.
- The Basel convention should be used to regulate the ordinary export, and IMO to fill some of the loopholes which exist with regard to ships, to develop strategies to minimize the use of poisonous substances in the shipping industry, and to ensure high, global standards with regard to safety and health at ship-breaking sites all over the world, Jim Puckett ends.
What is scrap?
The opinion of Norwegian authorities is that "a ship which is still in operation (in the sense that it still has all the certificates it needs to sail legally) is not considered scrap according to Norwegian regulations, even if the shipping company intends to discard the ship later on." (Underlined by the Ministry of Environment). Other bodies, however, including the Commissioner of Environment of the European Union, Ritt Bjerregaard, think that a ship turns into scrap when the decision of sale for break-up is taken.
Danish authorities, who have withdrawn their lawsuit against the shipping company Scandlines, which sold two of their ferries for scrapping in India, shared this view.
The Norwegian Veritas
The practise of selling ships for break-up in Asia is sharply criticised in a report recently published by The Norwegian Veritas. The report, which mainly addresses the environmental aspects of the industry, and especially the substances aboard the ships, also mentions the working conditions of the employees at the various scrapping yards. For further and more thorough mapping of the environmental problems, Veritas recommends that additional investigations are carried out on-site. Veritas also recommends that guidelines for the sale of ships for scrapping should be worked out, and that the substances of ageing oil tankers should be examined. Veritas presents a long list of substances which exist in an oil tanker, which cause concern when the ship is to be scrapped. Among the substances are aluminium and zinc (cathodes), lead, cadmium, nickel and sulphuric acid (batteries), PCB, copper, zinc, chlorine, TBT and polyurethane (paint), freon and chloridefluormethane (cooling system), asbestos and PCB (insulation), iron (the hull), copper, PVC, PCB, lead and quicksilver (the electrical system), and hydrocarbons and cargo residues.
Veritas has tried to estimate the amount of substances which may be present in an oil tanker (the VLCC class) when it is discarded, but there are many elements of uncertainty. For example, the amount of asbestos is estimated to be between five and seven tonnes per ship. Far from all of the substances can be recycled, and there is a danger that much of it will end up in the local environment.
Many of the above mentioned substances will, when heated up, generate new gases (thermal decomposition). This will happen when the ship is broken up when cutting torches are used on the hull, when parts of the ship catch fire, when garbage is burnt and when the scrap metal is melted down. Paint based on the substance polyurethane, which is also present in insulation etc., will generate isocyanate gases when it is heated. Methylisocyanate (MIC) leaked out in the accident at the Union Carbide factory in the Indian village Bhopal in 1984, causing the deaths of 3000 people, according to official statistics. The real number may be 3-4 times as big.
The Norwegian Directorate of Labour Inspection has worked out strict rules for working with these kinds of substances. They demand protection of the skin against spills and squirts, tightly covering eye protection and breathing protection with fresh air flow. With regard to welding, cutting, and other work that creates temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius, the Directorate demands that the polyurethane coating must be removed before this work is done.
The Veritas report presents thorough statistics with regard to where ships of certain sizes and classes have been scrapped over the last years, and it gives a survey of today's fleet, and the expected number of scrappings in the next years. After the shipping construction boom in the mid 1970s, we can expect that many ships will end up on Asian beaches in the next few years, due to the 25-year limit which makes great demands on standard and maintenance.
In the years 1997 and 1998 (until September), 93 tankers were scrapped, according to Veritas. Four of them were registered in the Norwegian International Ship Registry (NIS). Of 413 bulk carriers which were scrapped in the same period, two came from NIS. Veritas estimates that a total of 2249 ships were scrapped in the period 1992-98.
There have been changes in this business over the last few years. Until 1991, China had a major part of the market, but after the country imposed a specific tax on the scrapping of ships, the assignments moved westwards. In 1996, after a major gas explosion in the Indian town Alang, the place where most of the scrapping of ships takes place, India introduced a law which demands that ships that are to be scrapped in India must have a "gas free" certificate. This immediately caused India's loss of the large tankers, which since then have mainly gone to the neighbouring countries Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In February, Indian authorities cut 5% of the import duty on ships bought for break-up to help the business. After this, the custom will be 5% of the purchase price.
Receiving countries in the period January to September 1998 are, according to Veritas, the following: India 49%, Bangladesh 21%, Pakistan 13%, China 7%, and other countries 10%. This survey includes ships with a deadweight tonnage of more than 10,000, military vessels not included.
Greenpeace has also become involved in the discussion on scrapping of ships. In October 1998, Greenpeace in Germany presented a report based on "A fact finding mission " to Alang and Bombay in India.
The two diploma engineers Judith Kantak and Andreas Bernstoff took samples of both water and soil on the scrapping sites, and control samples in other areas. The samples were later analysed in laboratories in Germany. Alarming quantities of asbestos fibres, heavy metals, arsenic, TBT, PAH and probably remnants of dioxin were found. Even if the scrapping were to end today, some of these substances will remain in the food chain for the next 10-20 years, Greenpeace sums up.
The organisation has also looked into working and living conditions. They point out that safety measures for the workers are far below German standards. At the same time, workers and their families live close to the working site. This means that the air pollution affects their health 24 hours a day. Occupational Health Officer in Bremen, Dr. Frank Hittal, says to Greenpeace that every fourth worker in Alang must expect to develop cancer.
Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh represent 70-80% of the scrapping of ships worldwide, and this is where you find the worst working conditions. Unlike the ship-breakers in Taiwan, who have modern equipment and facilities, the Indians work with hammer, power saw and crowbar.
In Alang, in the Indian state Gujarat, 40,000 Indians work on an 8 kilometres long beach. One hundred working accidents occur every day, and it is estimated that on average one person dies each week. The accidents are partly related to the dismantling of the steel constructions, partly to explosions and generation of gas caused by dangerous substances which are in the ships when they are scrapped. In addition to the immediate injuries comes the constant poisoning which occurs when a person is exposed to asbestos, heavy metals and remainders of paint in closed rooms almost daily.
Alang has one ambulance, and the patients often die before they reach Bhavnagar. There is one Red Cross clinic in Alang which works to survey the extent of the injuries. Veritas believes that most of the injuries are caused by cuts, burns and falls.
In The Future In Our Hands' magazine Folkevett no. 1 this year, we looked into whether environmental considerations are taken when development aid is given. Based on NORAD's own evaluation of projects in Tanzania and an English study (IIED) of all the environmental impact assessments which have been carried out in the same country, we have drawn a depressing conclusion: NORAD's environmental impact assessments have mainly been academic practises without any effect on the shaping of the projects, and the environmental impact assessments could just as well have been left out because nobody reads them or takes them into consideration.
It is first and foremost the consultant firms who carry them out who have profited on all the environmental impact assessments in Tanzania. Two such firms are Norconsult and Norplan, which have been heavily criticized, not the least with relation to the two dam projects Pangani and Kihansi.
One of the researchers behind the British study says straightforwardly that the consultant business is "characterized by 'cowboys' who lack professional skills to do this kind of environmental impact assessments".
Maybe NORAD should reconsider who they engage to ensure environmental considerations in development aid?
Norwatch Newsletter 4/99