According to published reports, the European Council (EC) has adopted regulations designed to make ship recycling safer. However, the regulation does not prevent ships from being recycled on South Asia beaches.
"There is no specific mention that beaching is banned. But the standards agreed to will exempt South Asia yards from the list [at which] European flag ships can be recycled," said Carl Schlyter, of Sweden's Green Party, who spearheaded the European Parliament's push for stricter recycling practices.
The EC, which represents the heads of European Union member states, opposed a ban on beaching amid pressure from South Asian governments.
EC officials say the new regulation encourages shipyards in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan to improve their methods to avoid toxic spills. But officials say they don't expect European vessels will stop using South Asia recycling yards.
The three South Asian countries account for more than 70 percent of the global ship-recycling industry. Yards in those countries pay ship owners $410 per ton of steel, depending on the grade, while competitors in China and Turkey pay $300 to $340 per ton.
The legislation calls for recycling to be conducted using fixed structures, impermeable floors and effective drainage systems to prevent spills. But it doesn't propose specific penalties on shipowners for recycling their vessels at yards that don't have such facilities.
The EU legislation is in line with an existing global proposal—the 2009 Hong Kong Convention—that regulates the scrapping industry by establishing standards that are safe for workers and environmentally sound. That agreement awaits ratification by national parliaments, which is expected to take about six years.
The EU measure "is reasonable and workable and very much in line with Hong Kong Convention, which is the only route to global regulation for ship recycling," says Nikos Mikelis, a nonexecutive director of Global Marketing Systems, a middleman in the ship-breaking industry. Mikelis, a former executive of the United Nations' International Maritime Organization, helped draft the convention.
According to the EC, in the future, EU ships will have to be dismantled in ship recycling facilities that are included in an EU list of those that meet specific requirements and are certified and regularly inspected.
"This new legislation finally puts an end to European ships being recklessly scrapped in developing countries. Currently, most EU ships are sent to Southeast Asia at the end of their lives, where they are scrapped on a beach in conditions that are unacceptable for human health and cause gross pollution of the environment," said Carl Schlyter (Greens/EFA, SV), who steered the legislation through Parliament. The agreement he negotiated with Council was approved with 58 votes in favor, five against and one abstention.
"I want to stress that this is not an attack against India, Bangladesh or Pakistan—the countries that currently practice beaching—but against the dangerous and highly-polluting practice of beaching. This regulation incentivizes these countries to make the necessary investments in proper ship recycling facilities, above all for the sake of safe and environmentally-sound jobs in their countries," he added.
In negotiations on the draft, Parliament strengthened the requirements for ship recycling facilities to clearly preclude the practice of beaching. Ship recycling facilities must inter alia operate from built structures, be designed, constructed and operated in a safe and environmentally sound manner, contain hazardous materials throughout the recycling process and handle them and their waste only on impermeable floors with effective drainage. Waste quantities must be documented and waste processed in authorized waste treatment or recycling facilities.