Thursday, 21 February 2013

Is the EC proposing illegal demolition?

Continuing European attempts to overturn a ban on sending toxic ships to countries like India and Bangladesh for demolition have long evinced howls of protests from environmentalists. It now appears that even legal experts, including the Council’s own lawyers, are expressing grave concerns at the legality of the move.

Citing leaked European Council legal opinion papers are the source, a British newspaper- The Guardian- now says that the EC’s own lawyers are saying that the proposals may be illegal and against the Basel convention, the international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of waste between nations, and specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. Under the convention, rich countries must dispose of their own asbestos and other hazardous waste material before sending their ships to developing countries for demolition.

Environmental groups like the Shipbreaking Platform have long claimed that the European proposals were illegal, and would set a precedent in international law. Shipping experts have argued, in addition, that Europe’s proposal to exempt ships from its own legislation was absurd, and would hit at the very foundation of Basel by allowing rich countries to legally export toxic ships to developing countries .

The European Council’s lawyers seem to agree. In a restricted document that the Guardian says it has sighted, the EC legal service says, "[We] consider that there is a serious risk that the … exclusion of ships from regulation 1013/2006 in the manner being proposed could amount to a breach of the obligation not to defeat the object and purpose of a treaty. "

Another environmental toxic watchdog group- the Basel Action Network- stridently criticises what it calls the European Council’s double standards. "The EC's proposal to allow the shipping industry to ignore the Basel convention is scandalous and illegal. It is absurd to imagine that a huge oil company could legally dump their old rusty tanker full of asbestos in Asia when it would be a criminal act for anybody else to likewise export one single barrel of the same asbestos. But that is what the [EC] is proposing," says Jim Puckett of the group.

 Thanks to spiking demolition activity in the current financial crunch, the Europeans sent a vessel a day was sent to Asia to be broken up last year; a 75% increase over 2011. The International Labour Organisation says that workers in shipbreaking yards in countries like India perform jobs that are among the most dangerous in the world.

The World Bank says that Bangladesh alone will have 79,000 tonnes of asbestos and 240,000 tonnes of cancer-causing chemicals dumped on it by ships in the next 20 years. With the Hong Kong Convention not expected to come into force for another decade, there is cause for concern. 

Patrizia Heidegger, executive director of Shipbreaking Platform, says: "To scrap Basel obligations, Europe will be throwing away the very principles it has championed on the world stage, it will be undermining European ship recycling job opportunities, while poisoning some of the world's poorest, most desperate workers”

“It’s a lose-lose-lose proposition, all simply to line the pockets of shipping moguls."


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