Worldwide, about 700 ocean-going vessels are taken out of service each year. The exact number varies depending on the business climate in the maritime shipping markets and the price of used steel. Roughly 95% of these old ships are recycled in South Asia, especially in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. In these countries, thousands of jobs in the shipyards and downstream service sector depend on the ship recycling industry. The used steel recovered from the ships is a valuable raw material. In Bangladesh alone, recycling yards meet an estimated 80% of the country’s total demand for raw steel. Thus, ship recycling is an important economic factor not only for European ship owners, but especially for those countries that meet their steel needs by recycling old ships.
However, it is not only ship steel that finds a new purpose in the recycling process. In fact, almost the entire ship is put to a new use. For example, lamps, anchors and other components are recovered from the ships and re-sold, thereby extending their service life. In the end, there are only a handful of items that need to be disposed of properly.
Efforts to create global standards
To ensure that the safety and environmental standards for the dismantling and subsequent recycling of ships are both high and globally uniform, the member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the so-called Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships in 2009. The convention calls for shipbreaking yards to be comprehensively certified for occupational safety and environmental protection by the independent classification societies. Once in force, shipping companies will be required to draw up inventories of the hazardous materials present on board, and inspections will be conducted as part of the global port state controls to ensure that these requirements are being met. However, the convention has not yet entered into force.
The European Union and its Member States concluded that the Hong Kong Convention provides an effective level of control and enforcement for high environmental and safety standards in ship recycling. Moreover, the Council of the European Union has explicitly encouraged Member States to make it a priority to ratify the convention so that it can bring about a genuine and effective improvement in practice as soon as possible. The signatory states to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal have also endorsed this assessment and have been pressing for years for the prompt ratification of the Hong Kong Convention.
The shipping industry has likewise been proactively promoting the rapid entry into force of the Hong Kong Convention since 2009 and already applies its basic rules on a voluntary basis via its own guidelines – the Guidelines on Transitional Measures for Shipowners Selling Ships for Recycling.