Scrapping ships - is the EU dumping toxic waste?

Ship breaking in Alang, India. Workers face oil, asbestos and chemicals

Hundreds of rusting old ships registered in the European Union end up being dismantled on beaches on the Indian sub-continent - with Bangladesh being a key destination. There, workers brave oil, asbestos, chemicals and heavy metals as they dismantle the ships by hand. A report to be debated by MEPs Tuesday night in Strasbourg will call for EU-registered ships to be pre-cleaned of hazardous waste before they are sent to poorer countries. It also wants Europe's dismantling industry boosted.

The health impact felt by workers dismantling ships has been well documented with oil and chemicals seen as the most lethal threats. At Alang, India's largest dismantling site, one in six of the workers is suffering from asbestosis. The fatal accident rate is said to be six times higher than in the Indian mining industry.

More vessels due to be broken up by 2010

Worldwide about 200-600 ships are dismantled each year, a third of which are registered in the EU. This figure is set to rise as new safety regulations mean that by 2010 around 800 single hull oil tankers will be decommissioned in favour of safer double hull vessels.

As well as calling for vessels to be cleaned, the report on ship dismantling wants an international agreement laying down responsibility for each stage in the dismantling process. It also wants a full list of ships soon to be decommissioned and information on their likely fate. The EU currently has enough capacity to dismantle warships and state owned vessels, with very little left over for merchant ships.

Clémenceau case highlighted concerns

In 2006 the intended scrapping of the 50 year old French aircraft carrier "Clémenceau" in India had to be reversed after the toxic impact of the vessels led to environmental and legal challenges.

The report, drafted by Johannes Blokland of the Independence and Democracy group, is based on a European Commission Green Paper published in May last year. Ahead of the debate, he said the "EU is partly responsible for existing social and environmental problems" caused by ship dismantling. Watch the full debate Tuesday night live online from Strasbourg.

REF.: 20080520STO29277

Source: European Parliament (press release), EU - May 20, 2008

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