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Scrap Policy Not Only Immoral But Illegal

Wednesday February 10 1999 - Letters to the Editor, Lloyd's List, No. 57,191 Page 5

Sir, we are happy to see that Lloyd's List considers the scrapping of decommissioned ships in Asian countries as a serious matter which requires action. We dare wonder if Lloyd's List would have paid this much attention to this serious problem if activists from Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network (BAN) had not "engaged in publicity stunts with small boats".

Hazardous waste, for instance asbestos, is dealt with by people wearing moonsuit-like protection gear in OECD countries. It is immoral that western companies dump their hazardous waste in the form of obsolete ships on Asia, where workers rip the ships apart with hardly more than their bare hands. It is possible to remove asbestos from ships safely. This has been done for Greenpeace ships.

The continuing dumping practice is not just immoral but also illegal. Thirty-year-old ships are hazardous waste by any reading of the Basel Convention which foresees to prohibit the export of such wastes from OECD to non-OECD countries. This so called "total ban" has been legally effective for all EU member countries since January, 1998.

Greenpeace and BAN are not alone in their opinion that ships for scrap are covered by the Basel Convention. European environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard said in an interview with a Norwegian newspaper: "This should make it clear for everybody that a ship for breaking up is a waste, export of such a ship is a waste export and if the ship contains hazardous substances the export may only take place if duly authorised and if the treatment will be environmentally sound."

Recently, the Dutch environment minister, Mr J Pronk, stated in a letter to Greenpeace: "Ships and other floating material intended for scrap are regarded as hazardous waste if any cargo, hazardous substances and hazardous waste have not been properly disposed of."

"Old ships should only be exported to Asia when they are free from toxic substances," Mr Pronk stated last week in a public interview.

Old ships contain asbestos and paints containing toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium as well as arsenic and a number of other dangerous substances listed by the convention.

It would have been foolish to name items like toasters, cars, printing machines or ships in the convention because all these items are often toxic waste today but can, hopefully, be clean tomorrow. On the other hand, European legislation explicity mentions ships as being banned from export unless they are free from toxics.

The Greenpeace and BAN campaign has the support of the International Transport Federation and all major unions in India. We are concerned about the wellbeing of 100,000 workers. That is why we are highlighting the horrendous working conditions and demanding the workers' fundamental right to a clean and healthy livelihood with dignity.

We would like to remind you that five major Indian trade unions have clearly stated: "We also wish to remind shipbreakers, the government of India and steel consumers that steel obtained at the cost of workers' lives and environmental degradation is too expensive."

Simultaneously, we will also fight for the creation of clean, healthy and sustainable livelihoods. The first step is to make a toxics inventory of all ships bound for scrapping so everybody knows what we are talking about. Thereafter an assessment is needed on technology and feasibility on how to handle the hazardous substances before or during scrapping in order to avoid damage to health and environment.

Also it is necessary to free, step by step, all working ships from the toxic substances they carry so they arrive in the scrap yard, wherever,in a comparable clean situation. P&O Nedlloyd has refused even to do the first step - others have not.

Greenpeace and BAN agree with shipowners and governments that this issue should be addressed in the International Maritime Organisation. We are working on a proposal for the IMO commission concerned with environmental issues. But first of all we want shipowners to take responsibility for their toxic waste, and to comply with existing law (Basel Convention and EU regulation). It is their asbestos that is continuing to kill workers in Asia up to this moment.

Nityanand Jayaraman,Greenpeace International, Delhi, India

Ravi Agarwal, Basel Action Network, Delhi, India 

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