Europe has capacity to recycle its ships sustainably – despite industry claims

A dispute involving Europe’s ship owners and the European Commission is threatening to weaken the effectiveness of a new EU law aimed at cleaning up the recycling of old ships. T&E together with NGO Shipbreaking Platform has called for the Commission to insist that only scrapping yards that meet minimum standards on environmental and working conditions should be on the EU’s list of approved scrapping facilities.

Successful techniques to break up ships at the end of their useful life can both save lives and have environmental benefits, as valuable materials can be salvaged that contribute to the ‘circular economy’ and reduce the need for mining of minerals. But lax standards in certain parts of the world, notably Asia, have led to serious human safety and environmental problems, which has prompted the EU to introduce a ship scrapping recycling law (EU Ship Recycling Regulation No 1257/2013), which comes into effect on 1 January 2019. But the list of approved ship scrapping yards has still to be finalised, and politicking around this delay is threatening to undermine the effectiveness of the new legislation.

From next year, ship owners registered in the EU will have to use one of the EU’s approved scrap yards, and the Commission has drawn up a provisional list of 20 ship breaking yards that meet the required standards, all of them Europe-based. The shipping industry is now pressuring the Commission to allow shipyards outside the EU onto the list, on the grounds that the yards on the provisional list will not be able to cover all the work. T&E and NGO Shipbreaking Platform believe this is simply an attempt to keep lower-price ship breakers in Asia on the approved list, with the lower prices coming at the cost of serious environmental problems and grave abuses of workers.

To counter the shipping industry’s claims, the two NGOs have released a new analysis showing that ship-recycling yards approved by the EU will have easily enough capacity to handle demand from EU-flagged ships that need to be scrapped. It says the 20 scrappers on the list have had the capacity to handle all EU ships broken since 2015, and that adding new sub-standard facilities is both unnecessary and would legitimise ship-breaking facilities which would never be allowed to operate in EU countries.

T&E’s shipping officer Lucy Gilliam said: ‘The EU ship recycling law has come about because of horror stories about ships being scrapped on beaches causing needless deaths and leaving toxic residues, polluting land and marine environments. It’s vital that basic environmental standards are respected in the EU’s list of approved ship