ECSA presses EU to drive change in south Asian ship recycling

Alang ship recycling. Credit: Igor Malushko
Alang ship recycling. Credit: Igor Malushko

European shipowners’ body ECSA has called on the European Union (EU) to make use of the start of its new ship recycling regulation on 1 January 2019 to drive efforts to bring South Asian recycling facilities up to international standards.

According to ECSA, south Asian recyclers are already upgrading in order to win inclusion on the EU list of approved recyclers, which the operators of European flag vessels will be obliged to use once the regulation comes into force.

Ten facilities have already been given approval by the Maersk group, which has been working with recyclers in India’s Alang recycling zone with the aim of helping them bring their facilities up to acceptable international levels.

But the group, which has already recycled six of its older vessels in Alang and is working on a seventh, said that 60 other facilities are already in the process of bringing themselves up to the same level in the hope of winning inclusion on the EU-approved list.

“The EU is playing a very important role,” ECSA secretary-general Martin Dorsman told IHS Markit. “It can really take the lead in improving standards globally.”

That EU-approved list currently comprises about 20 European facilities but, according to ECSA, has recently been supplemented by three non-EU yards – two in Turkey and one in the United States, while another 20 facilities are waiting for their applications to be processed.

No southern Asia yards have been included in the list so far but ECSA and Maersk are both hoping that this will change, with two Alang facilities currently undergoing audits for inclusion.

“We hope that they will be approved as soon as possible and that there will be a new list somewhere towards the beginning of the new year,” Dorsman said.

The shipping industry wanted to see recycling standards raised as quickly as possible so that the bad practices currently seen in sub-standard facilities could be eliminated.

It had been expected that more non-EU facilities would be audited for inclusion on the EU-approved list before the new regulation came into effect. Dorsman said, however, that the process of auditing facilities for inclusion on the list was an open-ended one that would continue for the foreseeable future.

“There will not be a final list because it’s a process,” he said.

ECSA had previously put emphasis on the need to have the Hong Kong Convention on ship recycling ratified but Dorsman said that one of the goals of the EU regulation was to contribute to ratification of the convention.

“That’s why we say that we are positive about what the EU is doing,” he said. “It’s not only about the EU. It’s about global standards. That fits in with our general policy that we are a global industry and that we need global regulations.”

Maersk group sustainability strategy head John Kornerup Bang, who attended ECSA’s press briefing on ship recycling in Brussels on 30 October, recognised that there was opposition to the position adopted by ECSA and Maersk on recycling, notably because of the use of ‘beaching’ at South Asian yards.

He argued, however, that great strides had been taken by Maersk and its partners in Alang to eliminate the safety and pollution risks associated with beaching.

“The method of recycling does not determine whether you do something responsible or not,” he told IHS Markit. “The processes we are implementing in Alang are fully up to the level of the best yards in China and Turkey.”

The most important thing, he said, was that if the EU found deficiencies at some of the yards it audited it should explain what they were because the yards were ready to do what was necessary to eliminate them.

There was currently “incredible momentum” for change in Alang, Bang said, after about three decades of little improvement in standards.

“This momentum has taken us by surprise to be honest,” he said. “We thought it would take much more to get this momentum. We have 10 yards at our level and we have 60 yards in the process of upgrading.”

Maersk could take some credit for helping to generate this momentum, he said, but it had above all been created by the desire of the Alang recyclers to get on to the EU-approved list.

It was important, Bang added, for the EU to understand how important the new regulation was as a driver for change in the global recycling industry.