UN accord on ship recycling to start within two years

28 June 2023

An international accord on recycling ships is set to begin within 24 months after Bangladesh and Liberia became the latest countries to ratify the accord, officials said on Monday (26 June, 2023).

Workers on a beach with a giant cargo vessel The Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships is expected come into force before June 2025. (PHOTO: Reuters)

The Hong Kong convention is a treaty set up by UN shipping agency the International Maritime Organization (IMO). It aims to ensure that ships, when being recycled after reaching the end of their operational lives, do not pose any unnecessary risks to human health, safety and to the environment.

Although it was established in 2009, it is the recent accession of Bangladesh and Liberia as contracting states that now enables it to come into effect. 

There are now a total 22 contracting states - which include Belgium, France, Germany, India, Norway and Japan - on the convention, which was adopted in 2009 by 63 countries with the aim of improving working conditions.

Much of the world’s ship breaking takes place at sites across south Asia in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan and involves dangerous manual labour where workers dismantle ships and are exposed to toxic substances.

According to an analysis from campaigners with NGO Shipbreaking Platform, which monitors conditions at sites, working conditions remain perilous, with workers still being killed or seriously injured as a result of fires, falling steel plates and other hazards reported across the breaker yards in South Asia.

A worker dismantling a vessel with a specialist blow torch Unsafe working conditions are still a serious concern across the industry. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Despite so many countries committing to the treaty since its formation, it needed to meet various criteria, including having at least 40% of the world’s merchant shipping by gross tonnage represented by ratifying nations, which had not been met previously despite other large maritime nations such as India already ratifying it.

The accession of Bangladesh and Liberia means the total 22 contracting states to the convention represents just over 45% of the gross tonnage of the world’s merchant shipping, the IMO said in a statement.

The combined annual ship recycling volume of the 22 contracting states during the preceding 10 years amounted to 23.8 million gross tonnage, equivalent to 3.3% of the required recycling volume and above the required 3% threshold.

Part of a ship being lift by crane in a scrap yard The addition of Bangladesh and Liberia as Contracting States in the Hong Kong Convention have triggered its entry into force. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Lenn Eugene Nagbe, CEO of the Liberia Maritime Authority, said it was “a great and historic day for world shipping”.

Similarly, Saida Muna Tasneem, Dhaka’s permanent IMO representative, said in a statement that Bangladesh had “demonstrated global leadership and commitment as a major ship recycling country to environmentally safe and sustainable ship recycling” by acceding to the Convention.

A series of guidelines is now being compiled to assist in the Convention’s implementation. These will impact both the ship building and recycling sectors and see “the establishment of an appropriate enforcement mechanism for ship recycling, incorporating certification and reporting requirements”.

Regulations relating to ship building will cover “the design, construction, operation and preparation of ships so as to facilitate safe and environmentally sound recycling,” with vessels requiring an initial survey to inventory hazardous materials, renewal surveys during their lifespans, and a final survey prior to recycling.

For those involved with ship decommissioning, dismantling and recycling, the Hong Kong Convention states: “Ship recycling yards will be required to provide a Ship Recycling Plan, to specify the manner in which each individual ship will be recycled, depending on its particulars and its inventory.

“Parties will be required to take effective measures to ensure that ship recycling facilities under their jurisdiction comply with the Convention.

(Reporting by Jonathan Saul in London and Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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