Library / 13 October 2006
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Closing Statement / IMO MEPC 55
by NGO Platform on Shipbreaking
13 October 2006 – On behalf of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, and at the closing of these proceedings, we would like to leave you with a thought. We’d like to reference a recent BBC news article that appeared a few days ago. It was about another industry trying to come to terms with its own post-consumer transport waste – here the subject was not about obsolete ships, but rather obsolete airplanes.

According to the article, the life span of most commercial airplanes is said to be around 30 years; and so, just as there was a 1970s explosion in aircraft production, now there's a big jump in the number of planes beyond use. Its estimated 8,000 will need to be retired in the next decade.

What's to be done with them? Aircraft contain toxic materials, so dumping them at a far-off airfield or throwing them in the sea is clearly unacceptable.

Concerned by this and aware that getting rid of airplanes was only going to become more of an issue, Boeing set up the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (Afra). It's a union of recycling companies with two airports - Chateauroux in central France and Evergreen Air Centre in Arizona. While Boeing pursues the Afra project, Airbus has a similar scheme called Pamela - Process for Advanced Management of End of Life Aircraft.

So both of these major manufacturers are clearly concerned about this issue and are seeking to solve it before it becomes a problem. Eac is drawing up a code of good practice in the hopes that legislators will reward their efforts. In other words, the industry is taking their extended producer responsibility seriously.

On top of the concern about dumped planes and a desire to develop best practice, there was a political motive, he says. "There are no set rules for doing this. So if we sit down and talk about what are the best ways - the most environmental and economical ways of doing this - and then present that as a set of rules for the legislators to work with, so much the better."

The article ends with the statement: After all those years of service, surely those jumbos deserve a decent end.

When reading this article, it is impossible not to be struck by the contrast in the two industries. The airplane industry on the one hand and the shipping industry on the other.

The airline industry is now proactively seeking the best practices globally possible, not trying to green-gloss an unregulated, mafia dominated, exploitive, status quo horror story – not trying to protect their industrial sector at the expense of human health and the environment. They are not going to use the developing world as a global dumping ground even given the very real allure of cheap labor. They are developing one state of the art facility in Europe, one in North America. They will not be seeking to externalize environmental costs and liabilities but rather the producers have immediately recognized that producers are responsible and must pay. They are going to respect, rather than ignore established principles of policy and law.

These principles include: The Polluter Pays Principle, The Precautionary Principle, the Principle of Producer Responsibility, the Principles of Self-sufficiency and Proximity, The Principle of Environmental Justice, The Principle of Substitution, The Principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities, the Principle 14 of the Rio Declaration against transferring harm, Principle 16 of the Rio Declaration against externalizing costs. These principles have taken years of negotiations and were adopted by consensus in meetings like this one but here they have been ignored or swept aside.

Coming into this meeting the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking brought, as we have done in numerous occasions in the past, concerns and recommendations from civil society. We have recommended pragmatic means to implement established principles, with obligations commensurate with the crisis at hand. But to date these necessary reforms have been ignored by this body. But we are not alone, other important stakeholders, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, the Basel Convention, Green ship recyclers in developed countries, the International Labor Organization, trade unions, and especially the interests of workers themselves, have also been ignored. Indeed, this body has not heeded the of its own IMO Secretary General who, at the opening of this meeting state that we must seek the maximum, yes the maximum levels of environmental protection. Do we truly think we are doing that?

Just as in the airplane industry, in the next few years, the peak of the shipbreaking crisis will be upon us with thousands of ships reaching end-of-life with inadequate capacity to responsibly recycle them. It is clear that not only do we need a dramatic shift from business as usual in the text of the new Convention but we will need dramatic interim measures to avert a toxic flood.

We urge all of you that seek true solutions to heed the Secretary Generals call to maximize environmental protection, to take inspiration from responsible industries that have taken the long-term look and embraced another way, a way that pragmatically implements the aforementioned principles that the international community has set as a standard for corporate and national responsibility. And most of all we urge you to never lose sight of the plight of the workers, who are now, as we speak and equivocate over commitments, are dying horrific deaths from explosions, or of cancer and asbestosis. So far we must all admit that the response falls far short of the crisis at hand and far short of what the global community has called us to do. Between now and our next meeting it is our duty to reflect on the gulf that lies between the global crisis and our response and remember we still have the opportunity to chart a responsible course.

Thank you. We would like this statement attached to the report of this meeting.

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