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Brussels, 22 May 2007

Environment: Commission issues Green Paper on safer ship dismantling

The European Commission today published a consultation paper on how to make the dismantling of old ships safer for workers and the environment. The Green Paper on better ship dismantling represents an important stage in the development of an EU strategy in this area. Highlighting the dangerous and polluting conditions under which many ships are currently broken up on South Asian beaches, the paper sets out a range of options for action at EU level pending the development and entry into force of a planned international Convention on safe ship recycling. The aim of the consultation is to seek input from EU institutions, member states, stakeholders and the public on the best way forward in addressing this serious health, safety and environmental issue.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Many ships from Europe and around the world are broken up in South Asia in appalling conditions which lead to hundreds of deaths and injuries each year and serious coastal pollution. The EU has a duty to take action to protect the health and safety of the workers involved and reduce the pollution these activities are causing. There is an urgent need for binding international rules, but until an international solution is found, the EU should tackle the problem caused by the ship dismantling of state-owned ships and warships. "

The issue

The Commission initiated work to develop an EU-wide strategy on ship dismantling in April 2006. Worldwide, between 200 and 600 large merchant vessels are taken apart for their valuable scrap metal annually, and this figure is set to rise in the next few years as single-hull oil tankers are phased out in favour of safer double-hulled vessels. Most of the dismantling industry is located in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan where it provides thousands of jobs. A lack of environmental and health protection measures, however, means that accident rates among workers are extremely high and pollution from dismantling operations contaminates wide stretches of the coast. Older ships contain many hazardous materials, including asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), tributyltin and large quantities of oils and oil sludge.

This situation is of major concern to the European Union since nearly one in three ships in the world’s fleet sails under the flag of an EU member state, and even more are owned by European companies.

The export of hazardous waste to developing countries is prohibited by the EU’s Waste Shipment Regulation,[1] in line with an amendment to the United Nations Basel Convention on transboundary movements of hazardous waste that has yet to enter into force. In practice, though, current international rules are difficult to apply to ships, so the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is preparing a binding Convention on the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships.

Main features of the Green Paper

As a consultation document, the Green Paper does not present a ready-made plan but suggests a range of options intended to intensify dialogue with Member States and stakeholders and prepare the ground for future action.

For the longer term the Green Paper proposes that the EU should support the ongoing process to develop an international Ship Recycling Convention, but with a stronger role for the EU itself. It points to the need for a sustainable financing scheme for clean dismantling, which could be organised in the form of a "Ship dismantling fund" and levies on the shipping industry.

The paper also suggests measures which could take effect in the short and medium term. These include better enforcement of the Waste Shipment Regulation by more checks at European ports; more systematic cooperation and information exchange between EU authorities; and publication of guidance such as a list of ‘clean’ ship dismantling facilities. ‘Clean’ ship dismantling capacity in Europe could be increased through stricter and more harmonised public procurement rules for the scrapping of government vessels. Whether state aid and EU subsidies for clean facilities in Europe would be possible or advisable, however, is left to further assessment.

Next steps

EU institutions, member states, EU and foreign stakeholders and the public at large are invited to comment on the Green Paper by 30 September 2007. In the light of the responses received the Commission will decide how to further pursue the development of the EU ship dismantling strategy.

More information

DG Environment web page on ship dismantling

[1] Regulation (EEC) No 259/93 of 1 February 1993 on the supervision and control of shipments of waste within, into and out of the European Community, as amended by Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council

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