Norway proposes global rules on ship scrapping

IMO to discuss inventory, decommissioning framework, to end dumping by fleet owners

A Norwegian proposal for an internationally binding agreement governing the scrapping of ships is to be discussed by the International Maritime Organisation in June, the country's environment ministry has announced.

The proposal involves developing standards to ensure that dismantling is done in a safe, environmentally sound and well regulated way. Ship owners and ship builders would have to compile an inventory of potentially hazardous materials contained in their vessels, as well as documenting that all decommissioning requirements are met. "Shipping companies must take responsibility for the environmental consequences of their business from the cradle to the grave, according to the same principles being developed for land-based companies," environment minister Guro Fjellanger said in a statement.

In particular, Norway wants to address the problem of industrialised countries

"dumping" the problem of hazardous substances contained in older ships by selling them on to developing countries. The main mechanism for tackling this is currently through the UN Basel convention on transboundary movements of waste. Norway says the convention is widely flouted, and believes an agreement developed within and monitored by a dedicated shipping organisation and relating specifically to shipping would be more transparent, have more authority, and be easier to police. However, it stresses that an IMO agreement should take due regard of the convention, as well as the London convention on dumping.

The problem of ship disposal will intensify, Norway says, as new regulations enter force this year tightening up requirements for tankers and bulk carriers. A study commissioned by the ministry from verification and classification agency Det Norske Veritas suggests that 950 tankers and 1,372 bulk carriers built in the 1970s will be scrapped in the next five years. In addition to heavy metals, PCB and HFCs, the study estimates that a large oil tanker can contain 5,000-7,000 kilograms of asbestos and 1,800-2,000 cubic metres of oil sludge.

The Norwegian proposal has the backing of a number of EU countries including Denmark, which is leading efforts to clarify when ships from member states are treated as hazardous waste – and thus governed by the Basel convention - under EU law. The EU's environment directorate is expected to present a proposal for tightening up existing regulations in May. "We want to put our own house in order first…but we can also see the advantage of a focused international agreement on ship disposal," a spokesperson for the Danish environmental protection agency told ENDS Daily.

However, industry sources said there could be opposition from IMO member countries with very large fleets or powerful scrapping industries, such as India and Bangladesh. Proponents will have to show that there is a "compelling need" for new IMO regulations, they say.

Follow Up:
Norwegian environment ministry, tel: +47 22 24 90 90; International Maritime Organisation, tel: +44 171 735 7611; Danish environmental protection agency, tel: +45 32 66 01 00.

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