The Asbestos Hazard in Shipbreaking
A seminar entitled Accountability in Shipbreaking: The Hong Kong Convention 8 years on, what has changed and what does the future look like? took place in London on May 15, 2017. Amongst the speakers were six of the worlds leading experts on the current situation regarding the annual disposal of hundreds of redundant sea-going vessels on tidal beaches in Asia, where the lack of enforceable legislation and safety standards exposes workers, including children, to asbestos, other toxins and physical injuries on a daily basis.1
Panel members (from left): Ingvild Jenssen, Francesca Carlsson, Ritwick Dutta, David Hart QC and Claire McGregor.
A film shown at the beginning of the event highlighted the deplorable and dangerous conditions which exist despite legal instruments such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal,2 Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 June 2006 on shipments of waste,3 Regulation (EC) No 864/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 July 2007 on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations (Rome II),4 the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships 2009,5 Regulation (EU) No 1257/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on ship recycling and amending Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006, and Directive 2009/16/EC6 intended to prevent the cut-price disposal of maritime toxic waste at substandard facilities.
During presentations by Ingvild Jenssen and Francesca Carlsson from the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, the case of the North Sea Producer an oil and gas floating production storage and offloading vessel based for many years in the MacCulloch oil field, 250 km north-east of Aberdeen was discussed.7
Ingvild Jenssen addressing seminar.
The ship was owned and operated by the UK-based North Sea Production Company, a joint venture between the Danish Maersk conglomerate and Odebrecht, a Brazilian oil and gas company. The export of the North Sea Producer from the UK on May 17, 2016, its arrival in Bangladesh on August 14, 2016 and plans for its demolition at the Janata Steel shipbreaking yard in Chittagong contravened many of the instruments cited above due to contamination with large amounts of highly toxic material and residues including NORM (natural occurring radioactive material).8 Using a corporate sleight of hand often employed to evade international protocols, the North Sea Producer was sold as a dead vessel in April 2016 to Janata Steel (Bangladesh), the worlds largest cash-buyer. After this transaction had been made, the ships name was changed to The Producer and it was pulled by a tug from Teesside to Bangladesh.
The furor over this case reverberated throughout the Danish and British media towards the end of 2016 and the controversy has also been reported in Bangladesh. As a result the breaking of the ship was halted, pending a report from a government agency; the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) is taking a keen interest in the case. On May 25, 2017 Dhaka-based Repon Chowdhury, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation, confirmed that:
We have found the ship beached at Janata Ship Yard, Address: Madm Bibir Hat, Shitakunda, Chittagong. The yard owner intentionally cut down the front and back parts of this ship as part of [measures to] eliminate name and IMO number (usual tactic). It is basically an oil and gas exploring ship. Due to objections from labour and environmental NGOs, government (environment department) directed the yard owner to stop the cutting work as the ship is suspected to have high atomic radiation levels and other toxic substances such as asbestos. Government set up two member investigation team to examine the ship and submit a finding report. After having the report in hand of the government, the authority will take a decision whether or not to issue cutting permission to the yard owner. So cutting work is now stopped.
The Producer beached at Janata Ship Yard.
In a letter highlighting the UKs failure to prevent the illegal disposal of this vessel to the Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Andrea Leadsom, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform called upon the UK to:
exercise its duty in enforcing the European Waste Ship Regulation to ensure that the North Sea production Company is charged for the illegal hazardous waste trafficking. The Platform also expects that the UK ensures that the North Sea production Company is held responsible for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of the North Sea Producer and the hazardous waste it contains The UK should also urgently warn its Bangladeshi counterparts of the breach of the Basel Convention and violation of the European Waste Shipment Regulation. The vessel has been allowed into Bangladesh based on a fake certificate that states that the tanker does not contain any hazardous material. The import of end-of-life ships containing hazardous waste into Bangladesh is banned, but circumvented with such false certificates.9
The NGO Shipbreaking Platform has been informed that DEFRA is investigating the matter. The EU Commission is aware of DEFRAs concern. To date, our attempts to confirm the state of DEFRAs inquiries have proved fruitless.
Information provided by specialists in compiling inventories of hazardous materials suggests that toxins found on oil and gas structures, like the North Sea Producer, would typically include between 1,000 to 150,000 kilograms of asbestos contained in a range of products, polychlorinated biphenyls, lead, mercury, cadmium, radioactive materials etc. However, one Danish expert believes it is unlikely that asbestos was used in the original construction of the vessel:
If this ship is from 1983/410 there will be very low likeliness that it contains asbestos. Asbestos for insulation purposes, including vessels, was banned in Denmark in 1972 From 1980 it [asbestos] was only allowed in specific car brakes and in hard Eternit [asbestos cement] products which seems very unlikely being used in ships.11
In the UK where the vessel was refitted during the 1990s the use of asbestos was legal and attempts are being made to establish whether The North Sea Producer was refitted or repaired with asbestos during that time.
In 1989, the United Kingdom became a signatory to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.12 Under the Convention, the UK is obliged to ensure that vessels containing hazardous waste are not illegally trafficked and that there is full compliance with all statutory obligations as per provisions which state: hazardous wastes and other wastes should, as far as is compatible with environmentally sound and efficient management, be disposed of in the State where they were generated DEFRA and government agencies must pursue those who are flouting the regulations and take steps to ensure that end-of-life ships are decommissioned legally.
1 Rizwana Hasan, one of the experts, gave her presentation via a skype hook-up and so is not included in the photo of the panellists; Ms. Hasan is a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work regarding shipbreaking regulations in Bangladesh.
2 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.
3 Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 June 2006 on shipments of waste.
4 Regulation (EC) No 864/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 July 2007 on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations (Rome II).
5 Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships 2009.
6 Regulation (EU) No 1257/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on ship recycling and amending Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 and Directive 2009/16/EC.
7 Platform News Maersk Involved in Illegal Toxic Waste Trafficking: Contaminated North Sea oil production and storage tanker ends up on the beach in Bangladesh. October 26, 2016.
Maersk and the Hazardous Waste in Bangladesh. October 15, 2016.
8 Maersk involved in illegal toxic waste trafficking. October 27, 2016.
9 Letter from NGO Shipbreaking Platform to Minister Andrea Leadsom. October 25, 2016.
10 Work on this vessel, at that time an oil tanker called Maersk Dagmar, was completed in Denmark in 1983. In 1996-97 it was converted into a floating production storage and offloading vessel on the Tees and renamed North Sea Producer.
11 Email received from Lars Vedsmand, May 18, 2017.
12 The provisions of the Basel Convention became binding in the United Kingdom in 1994.