EU ship recycling proposal illegal, ministers told

The draft regulation implementing the Hong Kong convention on ship recycling would breach EU obligations under international waste shipment rules, environment ministers have been told ahead of their 25 October meeting.

In a letter to member states' permanent representations in Brussels, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform warned that the European Commission's proposal from March would in effect remove the vast majority of end-of-life ships from the 2006 regulation implementing the Basel convention on hazardous waste shipments.

Under the Basel convention, exports of hazardous waste from OECD to non-OECD countries are banned. This includes end-of-life vessels containing toxic substances.

"The commission proposal constitutes a unilateral departure from the [Basel] provisions that is not allowed by the convention," said professor Ludwig Kraemer, an EU legal expert from NGO ClientEarth who once advised the EU executive's environment department on legal matters.

Under the proposal, owners of large commercial ships would have to keep a certified inventory of any hazardous materials such as asbestos, PCBs, and oil sludge onboard, and reduce their levels before the ship is recycled. The ships would have to be dismantled in an EU-approved facility inside or outside of Europe.

It will be discussed by environment ministers on 25 October. In a compromise text, the previous Danish presidency proposed that the draft regulation should apply two years after its publication rather than one year as proposed by the commission.

But the council text, which is now in the hands of Cyprus, introduces some improvements compared with the commission's proposal. For example, the publication of a European list of recycling facilities would be brought forward.

In a related development, an IMO committee has adopted two sets of guidelines regarding the Hong Kong convention. One deals with the certification of ships while the other covers inspections. They will help recycling facilities and shipping firms comply with the convention, although it has not yet entered force.

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Letter to permanent representations