Shipbreaking is the most dangerous job in the world. A year ago, at the Gadani shipyard in Pakistan, 28 workers died when the ship they were breaking down on the beach exploded. IndustriALL has long campaigned for the safe recycling of ships, and held a series of meetings with industry stakeholders to develop a collective response to improving the industry.
In a meeting facilitated by the Dutch union FNV, on 30 October a union delegation including representatives of shipbreaking unions in India and Pakistan met representatives from the Dutch banks ABN AMRO, ING and NIBC Direct NL.
The Dutch banks finance the building of new ships, and – along with Norwegian bank DNB and Norwegian export financier Eksport Kreditt – are concerned about the environmental and human impact of the shipbreaking industry.
Rikjan van Zalingen, sustainability issue manager at ING and Robin Willing, head of sustainability, jointly presented the banks’ Responsible Ship Recycling Standards, which aim to put conditions on loans for building or refinancing ships on a best efforts basis. The conditions would ensure that provision is made for the safe recycling of ships at the end of their lifecycle.
One suggestion, made by Vidyadhar Vasudeo Rane of the Steel, Metal & Engineering Workers’ Federation of India, is that a levy should be placed on newly built ships to pay for the safe recycling of the ship at the end of its life.
In the future, the banks might want owners to commit to break ships in yards which have been whitelisted by the EU ship recycling regulations, and contain an inventory of hazardous materials. The unions feel that the EU regulations are a high standard, but currently no yards in Bangladesh, Pakistan or India have been white listed, so this standard would cost jobs.
130,000 workers break ships on the beaches of South Asia, with millions of workers employed downstream. Ship breaking is a major source of steel in South Asia. The work is dangerous, and environmentally hazardous, but people need the jobs.
Unions believe that the Hong Kong Convention – the International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships – developed by the UN shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization, is the most effective and universal mechanism for improving conditions. The Hong Kong Convention provides a level playing field so that dangerous yards can’t undercut safe ones.
On 2 November, the union delegation met with the Royal Dutch Shipowners’ Association (KVNR) at their headquarters in Rotterdam, to discuss the most effective way to introduce circular economy thinking to the lifecycle of ships. The KVNR is very concerned about the human rights and environmental issues in shipbreaking.
Niels van de Minkelis of the KVNR proposed making a joint approach with the unions, urging the Dutch government to ratify the convention. The Hong Kong Convention will come into force when it is ratified by 15 countries, representing 40 per cent of gross tonnage and 3 per cent of recycling facilities. Currently it has been ratified by 6 countries, with Turkey expected to ratify soon, representing 21 per cent of tonnage.
That evening, IndustriALL and the FNV held a public meeting in Rotterdam to talk about shipbreaking. FNV Metaal member and former shipbuilder Joop van Oord spoke about his work in providing safety training to shipbreaking workers in South Asia.
“I built some of these ships,” he said. “So I know how to take them apart safely.”
IndustriALL director for shipbuilding and shipbreaking, Kan Matsuzaki, said:
“There are many stakeholders who are concerned about the terrible conditions on the beaches of South Asia. The best way to make shipbreaking safe is to bring everyone together and develop a joint approach.
“Both the banks and the shipowners’ association have made impressive commitments to improving the industry. We believe that ratifying and implementing the Hong Kong Convention is the most realistic and comprehensive way to safely recycle ships as a first step forward.”
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