Ship Recycling Regulations agreed

ship breaking

Image: NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Members of the European Parliament and Council agreed on a new Ship Recycling Regulation last Thursday (27 June), which will require all end-of-life ships to be recycled in EU-approved facilities. 

Under the present legislation, all European ships have to be recycled inside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as they are classified as hazardous waste and therefore banned from export under the Waste Shipment Regulation.
However, the EC found that a lack of enforcement lead to around 70 per cent of European ships being sent for breaking on the beaches of Asian countries, such as Bangladesh and India, where metal prices are high and labour costs are low. Indeed, the EC said that the practice (a legal ‘grey area’) causes ‘significant environmental pollution at a high cost to human health’ and often involves the use of child labour. 

The new regulation aims to crack down on this practice by implementing the rules of the 2009 Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships (yet to be ratified). 

Specifically, the regulation:

  • sets new standards for European ship recycling facilities;
  • requires facilities that meet such standards to apply for inclusion in the European-approved list of ship recycling facilities;
  • obliges EU-flagged ships to be recycled in these approved facilities; and
  • enforces the requirement for EU-flagged ships to carry an on-board inventory of hazardous materials to enable safe dismantling. 

The commission has said it will now look into further means to incentivise the use of higher-standard facilities, and will report on the possibilities for a fund for this purpose. 

Speaking after the meeting, EC Environment Minister Janez Potocnik, said: "I welcome the outcome of the trilogue on the new Ship Recycling Regulation, which marks a major step towards more sustainable recycling of ships around the world. 

“The new legislation will make it possible to legally recycle EU ships outside the OECD, but only in facilities that meet minimum [environmental] requirements. Ship owners will be able to choose such facilities from an EU list at a reasonable price. I am convinced it will reduce the illegal practices currently blighting the industry, which will become more responsible and environmentally friendly as a result. It will also lead to investment in improving facilities to meet the new demand for better standards." 


Despite the approval of the regulation, more than 160 green groups, including the NGO Shipbreaking Platform and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) have denounced the new law as ‘effectively postponing and possibly ridding the EU with its responsibility to provide solutions to the global shipbreaking crisis’. 

Specifically, the groups warn that the regulation does not go far enough in stopping the practice of ‘reflagging’, that is, illegally registering a ship as belonging to another country to circumvent domestic legal requirements, such as end-of-life disposal rules. 

Indeed, the EEB has warned that the regulation may have the unintended effect of seeing the number of ships registered under an EU flag drop: “We fear that the regulation will end up applying to very few ships”, said Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the EEB. “Unless an economic incentive for all ships calling at EU ports is rapidly introduced, circumvention of the law will persist, and the European shipping industry will continue to be at the heart of scandals involving severe pollution of coastal zones and exploitation of vulnerable workers in developing countries.” 

Suggestions for this economic incentive include introducing a ‘polluter pays’ principle, where shipowners who pollute are fined, thus promoting proper practice. However, in April, the European Parliament rejected proposals to create a ship recycling levy, despite pressure from the Environment Committee (ENVI) and environmentalists.  

However, MEPs did call on the European Commission to propose plans for an ‘incentive-based system that would facilitate safe and sound ship recycling’ before the end of 2015. 

Patrizia Heidegger, Director of Shipbreaking Platform, noted that there are “clear and compelling legal opinions proving that this unilateral exemption of ships [from the Waste Shipment Regulation] is a breach of the European Union’s legal obligations to uphold the Basel Convention and its Basel Ban Amendment”, adding that the European Council Legal Services had itself warned of the illegality of the new regulation. 

“Not only do the EU institutions create a legal dilemma for themselves, but also for all of the 27 European member states that are parties to the Basel Convention. All will have to reconcile the illegality of unilaterally acting in non-compliance with their international obligations”, said Heidegger. 

As part of a move to highlight the widespread practice of illegal shipbreaking, Shipbreaking Platform has now launched a website that lists shipping companies that have ‘commercially benefitted’ from selling end-of-life vessels for breaking on the beaches of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. 

Speaking of the website, Heidegger said:The fight for environmental justice in the shipping industry is far from over. When political leadership fails us, it is time to pressure the marketplace by shaming substandard practices and directing customers to the green ship recyclers.” 

Read more about the Ship Recycling Regulation and the problems of shipbreaking.