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FEBBRAIO 2023 PAG. 65 - Platform publishes list of ships dismantled worldwide in 2022


Shipbreaking on the beaches of South Asia continues to cause serious harm to workers and the environment despite plunge in number of ships scrapped

According to new data released by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, 443 ocean-going commercial ships and offshore units were sold for scrapping in 2022. Of these, 292 large tankers, bulkers, floating platforms, cargo- and passenger ships ended up for dirty and dangerous breaking on tidal beaches in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Whilst the South Asian shipbreaking yards experienced the lowest turnover in over a decade, with a significant drop in terms of the number of ships scrapped, they remained the preferred destination for end-of-life vessels, dismantling 80% of the global end-of-life gross tonnage. The reasons for the plunge in the number of vessels scrapped in 2022 are multiple, with high ocean freight rates that made it profitable to continue operating older vessels and banks’ shortages in providing credits to companies for the purchase of end-of-life assets identified as the main drivers.

“Companies have a duty to eliminate the negative impacts that their commercial decisions have on the environment and people. End-of-life vessels are hazardous waste, and taking them apart on tidal beaches is by far the worst industrial practice”, says Ingvild Jenssen, Executive Director and Founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

In South Asia, workers – often exploited migrants – are exposed to immense risks. Dangerous working conditions, including fires and falling steel plates, kill or seriously injure numerous workers. Many more are sickened by exposure to toxic fumes and substances that can be found within the ships’ structures. Coastal biomes, and the local communities depending on them, are devastated by toxic spills and air pollution due to the lack of infrastructure to contain, properly manage and dispose of hazardous materials.

In 2022, at least 10 workers lost their lives and 33 workers suffered injuries when breaking apart vessels on the beach of Chattogram, Bangladesh. Local sources also reported three deaths in Alang, India, and three injuries in Gadani, Pakistan. Some of these accidents took place onboard vessels owned by well-known shipping companies, such as Berge Bulk, Sinokor and Winson Oil.

The 2022 worst country dumper was China. Chinese owners sold 28 ships for scrapping in South Asia, most of which were beached in Bangladesh. Russia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Greece follow with more than a dozen ships beached each.

Environmental and labour laws that regulate ship recycling exist, but they are ignored and easily circumvented by ship owners, often with the aid of scrap dealers known as cash buyers. These pay the highest price for end-of-life vessels, and typically re-name, re-register and re-flag the vessels on their last voyage to the beaching yards. More than half of the ships sold to South Asia in 2022 changed flag to one of the grey- and black-listed flags of Cameroon, Comoros, Palau, St Kitts & Nevis and Tanzania, often just weeks before hitting the beach. At least eight of these flag changes enabled ship owners to circumvent the EU Ship Recycling Regulation.  

Dangerous and dirty practices are affecting also countries that rarely make ship recycling headlines. In Canada, the illegal breaking of barges and asbestos-laden vessels is negatively affecting the local residents and the indigenous people of Baynes Sound. On the opposite side of the Atlantic, the demolition of dozens of toxic ships is polluting the shores of Ghana.

Looking ahead, the number of ships that will need to be dismantled is expected to surge. At the same time, the growing focus on circularity and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions provide opportunities to transform the ship recycling sector. Already, forward-looking governments are developing policies to increase access to scrap steel for green steel production, coupling that with measures to encourage the development of sustainable ship recycling capacity. 

For instance, the United Arab Emirates have adopted a “no-beaching” rule and aim to attract vessels for dismantling in dry docks. The European Union’s Green Deal is, on its side, pushing major steel companies to explore ways of integrating ship recycling in their production line.

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