GENEVA, SWITZERLAND -- October 29 -- The global trade in toxic ships for scrap was dealt a serious blow today when the Basel Convention at its 7th Conference of the Parties taking place this week in Geneva, affirmed that ships can be considered toxic waste under international law at end-of-life and that its 163 member countries must begin at once to control the export of such ships under the terms of the Convention. Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network (BAN) described the decision as a major victory over the what they called the "shame of shipping."
In 1995 the Basel Convention banned the export of hazardous wastes, including for recycling from developed to developing countries. However, since that time, hazardous wastes contained as components in old ships such as asbestos, PCBs, toxic paints and fuel residues have continued to be sent to countries such as India, Turkey, Bangladesh and China. Today, by explicitly declaring redundant ships as waste, that ship-sized loophole has been closed.
"This is a major step towards ensuring that the people and the environments of the world's ship breaking countries no longer have to bear the burden of the shipping industry's toxic trash," said Marietta Harjono of Greenpeace. "At a time when some 2,200 single hull oil tankers are due to be scrapped, the decision could not have come a day too soon. With today's decision we can work to avoid solving one environmental crisis by creating another in ship breaking countries."
Under the decision, the 163 Parties to the Basel Convention must now apply the Basel Convention to ships destined for breaking. They must prohibit exports without the consent of recipient countries, must assure that shipbreaking is performed in an environmentally sound manner, and to minimize the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes.
The latter obligation can be expected to increase demands for de-contamination of ships prior to export which had been urged during the
meeting by the shipbreaking countries of India, Bangladesh, and Turkey. It will also create new demand for the development of 'green' ship recycling capacity in developed countries.
Many in the shipping industry opposed the Basel Convention's involvement in this issue, hoping instead that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) would assume total control over end-of-life ships and impose far less rigorous standards. The United States, Japan, and representatives of the shipping industry fought in vain to block today's decision.
In a last minute statement, the US which is not a Basel Party, in contradiction to the consensus view, arguing that it does not believe end of life ships are waste. The US is currently seeking to export its fleet of redundant naval 'ghost fleet' abroad.
The decision recognized the need to assist in the improvement of existing shipbreaking facilities in developing countries. It also recognised the work taking place in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and encouraged them to likewise seek to address some of the outstanding issues with respect to end-of-life ships in their own possibly mandatory regime.
"The Basel Convention decided that while the IMO is welcome to help solve the problem in the future, the Basel treaty must begin to solve it today," said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network (BAN). "The Basel Convention affirmed that it must act now with its existing obligations, to prevent the environmental injustice that finds almost 100% of the world's toxic ships being exported and dumped on the poorest communities on earth - a situation that is estimated to kill a person per day -- either from the slow death by cancer, or from the violent death from gas explosions."
Decision on the Environmentally Sound Management of Ship Recycling (unofficial text)
The Conference of the Parties,
Aware of the risk of damage to human health and the environment caused by hazardous wastes and other wastes and the transboundary movement thereof,
Recognizing that many ships and other floating structures are known to contain hazardous materials and that such hazardous materials may become hazardous wastes as listed in the annexes to the Basel Convention,
Concerned that ships and other floating structures may pose a threat to the environment and human health if they are not, when pre-decontaminated or dismantled, managed in an environmentally sound manner;
Noting the need to improve the standards of ship dismantling worldwide and the importance of international cooperation in achieving this goal,
Recognizing the importance of environmentally sound management of dismantling of ships,
Noting that a ship may become waste as defined in Article 2 of the Basel Convention and that at the same time it may be defined as a ship under other international rules,
Recognizing the important role that concerned States, ship owners, recycling facility operators and other stakeholders have to play in developing mechanisms to ensure the environmentally sound management of ship dismantling,
Recognizing the need to ensure effective enforcement of such mechanisms, including a reporting system, for ships destined for dismantling,
Recalling Decision V/28 on the dismantling of ships, which mandated the Technical Working Group to collaborate with the International Maritime Organization on the subject of the full and partial dismantling of ships and, together with the Legal Working Group, to discuss the legal aspects of the subject under the Basel Convention,
Further recalling decision VI/24 on technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of the full and partial dismantling of ships,
Noting that the Governing Body of the International Labour Office has adopted guidelines on safety and health in ship breaking, that the International Maritime Organization has adopted guidelines on ship recycling and that the Basel Convention has adopted technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of the full and partial dismantling of ships,
Noting the importance of promoting the implementation of the above-mentioned guidelines,
Further noting that the International Maritime Organization and the International Labour Organization, together with the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, have agreed to establish a joint working group on the ship scrapping and have agreed to terms of reference and working arrangements governing its activities,
Affirming that elements of prior informed consent as elaborated in the Basel Convention enable the minimization of the impact to human health and the environment associated with dismantling of ships recognizing the particular issues that arise in the unique context of ships,
Noting the progress made at the fifty-second session of the International Maritime Organization 's Marine Environment Protection Committee toward the possible development of a mandatory scheme for ship recycling, including a reporting system for ships destined for recycling,
Realizing that States have distinct obligations as Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and relevant International Maritime Organization conventions, including obligations of States in their capacities as flag States and as Parties to the Basel Convention including obligations of States in their capacities as States of Export, and that States should be able to meet these obligations in a consistent manner,
Noting that duplication of regulatory instruments that have the same objective should be avoided,
1. Reminds the Parties to fulfill their obligations under the Basel Convention where applicable, in particular their obligations with respect to prior informed consent, minimization of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and the principles of environmentally sound management;
2. Invites Parties, other States, ship owners and other stakeholders to assist in the improvement of the environmentally sound management of ship dismantling worldwide;
3. Invites Parties, especially developed States, to encourage the establishment of domestic ship recycling facilities;
4. Encourages Parties, to ensure their full and effective participation in the deliberations of the joint working group of the International Maritime Organization, the International Labor Organization and the Basel Convention, either through their representatives or as observers.
5. Invites the International Maritime Organization to continue to consider the establishment in its regulations of mandatory requirements, including a reporting system for ships destined for dismantling, that ensure an equivalent level of control as established under the Basel Convention and to continue work aimed at the establishment of mandatory requirements to ensure the environmentally sound management of ship dismantling which might include pre-decontamination within its scope;
6. Requests the Open-Ended Working Group to consider the practical, legal and technical aspects of the dismantling of ships in the context of achieving a practical approach to the issue of ship dismantling, to report on developments and to present any proposals, as appropriate, to the Conference of the Parties at its eighth meeting on a legally binding solution taking into consideration the work of the International Maritime Organization and the work of the joint working group.