In the port of Amsterdam

12 Apr 2005

The European Union has entered naval shipbreaking business. The discarded ships will begin to be dismantled and supply the steel industry with millions of tons of recyclable scrap metal. Today, France remains removed from this development, and it is the Netherlands that leads the way.

The Sandrien, a vessel of Bolivian origin, is being dismantled in the naval repair yard in Amsterdam; following the Sandrien’s deconstruction, the same yard will also scrap the Otapan (167 m long). Seized by the Minister of the Environment, the Dutch Tribunal considers a vessel destined for scrapping as waste. Consequently, the Sandrien could not rejoin Asian yards. If it wishes, the German government could do the same with the ex-France liner.

The Dutch naval yards work in conformity with the technical directives for the rational ecological management of complete or partial dismantlement of vessels, as detailed by the Basel Convention on the movement and elimination of transboundary emissions. The Dutch ship-repairing industry hopes to expand its services to shipbreaking and capture the market of merchant ships and military vessels, for example the US Navy “ghost ships.” The new “green” shipbreaking protocol requires that first the boat is cleaned, then cut. The Pacific Swan, a nuclear waste ship carrier, is also in the process of dismantlement at Gravendeel in the Netherlands.

The only French shipowner taken into account in this new orientation is the Marine Nationale. The majority of PCBs and as much asbestos as possible without compromising the towing bound for India, will be extracted from the Clémenceau. Other French shipowners remain indifferent to the management of their defunct vessels.

The list of dangerous materials, cargo residues exempt, include PCBs, asbestos, anti-freeze, sludge, CFC gases (freon), and radioactive sources which act as gauges in tanks. Increasingly, all the materials that served as basic upkeep for vessels- stocks of TBT paints, corrosion inhibitors, compressed gases, solvents, and lubricants- are delivered in poor condition along with the wreck.

Each year, between 500 and 1000 merchant ships are scrapped. At present, there is no waiting line for the shipbreaking yards as a result of the restrictions on single hull tankers which recently have come into force. Such a tanker is susceptible to be reconverted for instance into a molasses transporter or into a floating stock. The single hull tankers continue to deliver oil to the United States and cause oil spills there, for example the Athos I, a Cyprus boat in November 2004 close to Philadelphia. Single hull tankers are authorized up until 2015 in America. The tension is such in the market of maritime freight that the retirement of old vessels is constantly pushed back.

Since 1999, Robin des Bois has asked the French government and Europe to organize the definitive dismantlement of vessels to avoid their ressurrection elsewhere and to ensure that shipbreaking is done in a sanitary and safe way. The Dutch initiative could be considered as a practice round before the predicted boom of dismantlement in the years 2010-2020.


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