Raising ship recycling standards


The Hong Kong Convention, adopted in May 2009, sets out rules to ensure that ships are recycled in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. Drawing on the provisions of the Convention, the Commission has proposed legislation defining standards that owners of commercial EU-flagged ships will have to respect when vessels come to the end of their lives.

Ships have a normal life span of around 30 years before they are sent for recycling. The numbers involved are impressive. In 2009, some 200 EU-flagged ships with a total volume of about two million gross tonnes were recycled. Almost 90% of these vessels were recycled in Asia, notably India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Recycling is dangerous, both for workers carrying out the task and for the environment as large amounts of materials such as asbestos, heavy metals, mercury and oil are stripped from the vessels and disposed of.

Under existing legislation, EU ships should only be recycled in OECD countries, but far too few facilities are technically and economically equipped to handle current dismantling volume and it is relatively easy for owners to circumvent legislation on waste disposal since this is not adapted to the specificities of ships.

New recycling legislation

To resolve the situation, the European Commission has presented legislation dealing with the whole life cycle of large commercial EU-flagged ships. It implements key documentation requirements of the Hong Kong Convention, such as the need to establish and maintain inventories of hazardous materials on the vessel.

The new regulation stipulates that the recycling yards to which EU ships are sent must respect technical standards based on the Hong Kong Convention. These include the use of a trained workforce and environmentally friendly ways of removing dangerous materials. In turn, the possibility for EU ships to be legally recycled worldwide, not just in OECD countries, is opened.

Some requirements are more stringent than the Hong Kong Convention. For example, facilities have to ensure access for emergency response equipment, demonstrate control of any leakage of hazardous waste and materials and ensure full traceability and proper treatment of all waste, or they will not be allowed to recycle EU ships.

This new EU legislation goes hand in hand with current trends in the Asian countries where ship recycling takes place. China closed its substandard facilities some years ago. Improvements are occurring elsewhere, notably in India and Bangladesh, as pressure from domestic courts and NGOs raises safety and environmental standards.