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Ships to be exempted from EU export ban on hazardous waste

Ships are set to be exempted from EU rules that prevent the export of hazardous waste to developing countries, according to one of the latest drafts of the upcoming EU regulations on ship recycling (see update, below).

The export of European ships to non-OECD countries for dismantling is currently prohibited by the European Waste Shipment Regulations, as they are considered hazardous materials.

But the latest draft of the EU regulations on ship recycling, seen by MRW, includes a controversial European Commission (EC) proposal excluding ships from the EU Waste Shipment Regulations.

The document states:

“It is necessary to avoid duplication and to exclude ships flying the flag of a Member State falling under the scope of this Regulation from Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 of the European Parliament and the Council of 14 June 2006 on shipments of waste and from Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste respectively.”

An EC spokesperson confirmed to MRW that “this element of the [original] Commission proposal has been supported by the European Parliament and the Council without substantial changes.”

Ludwing Krämer, an expert on EU environmental law and policy and director of ClientEarth’s European Union Aarhus Centre, told MRW that if such an amendment was put in place significant consequences would include:

  • Legalising the export of ships for dismantling in developing countries, and lead to an increase in the practice
  • Create a “difficult precedent”, as other industries may push for their products, such as cars and electrics, to be excluded from the EU waste shipment regulations
  • It will be in contrast with international regulations on the shipment of waste, such as the Basel convention (see box, below)

Measures included in the new EU ship recycling regulation are not strong enough to offset these risks, he said.

He added that there could also be a “legal gap” between the applications of the new regulations on ship recycling and the removal of the export ban on ships: “New regulations will come into force quickly, but they will not be applied immediately as there will be some executive and implementing provisions lacking.”

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, an international group campaigning for the promotion of safe ship recycling, noted that upcoming regulations will only apply only to EU-flagged ships, and not to EU-owned ships.

“About 40% of the worlds’ fleet belongs to European owners, but only less than 20% are EU-flagged. Shipowners can easily flag out [change flag] – so the regulations might no have a large impact as it will not cover many vessels. The EU does not directly touch upon the EU based shipowners, but only on ships via the flag,” Patrizia Heidegger, executive director at Shipbreaking Platform, told MRW.

Heidegger nonetheless acknowledged some positives elements of the new rules, which will include the requirements for EU-flagged ships to be recycled only in clean and safe facilities listed in a register for the Commission to submit a report on the feasibility of a financial instrument that would facilitate safe and sound ship recycling.

Update: On Thursday 27 June the European Council endorsed the draft regulations that include the exemption of ships from the EU Waste Shipment Regulations.

The regulations will be subjected the Council’s formal approval and to a vote by the European Parliament.

Regulations related to end-of-life ships vessels:

The European Waste Shipment Regulation (2006) prohibits the export of hazardous waste, including ships, from the EU to non-OECD countries.

The Regulation of the EU Parliament and Council on ship recycling (work in progress), will require EU-flagged ships to use only registered, clean and safe ship recycling facilities.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal (UNEP, 1992) applies to ship dismantling because ships contain hazardous materials such as asbestos, Polychlorinated Biphenyls, oil residues and other toxic substances.

The Hong Kong Convention (International Maritime Organisation, 2009) introduces requirements on worker safety and training, protection of human health and the environment; and emergency preparedness and response in ship recycling, but has not entered into force yet.

The UK Ship Recycling Strategy (Defra, 2007) contains guidelines (but not regulations) on ship recycling for Government-owned or UK-flagged commercial vessels.

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