Whether we’re talking about old naval ships that served the U.S. in the Vietnam War or once-magnificent cruise ships that outlived their shine, the fact is that large maritime vessels need to be properly disposed of when they’re no longer useful – the keyword being “properly.” Too many times, countries around the world cut corners when they get rid of their ships. Not only are these practices not environmentally friendly, but they also needlessly put people at risk of exposure to asbestos and other toxins.
That’s why I’ve found it so encouraging to learn that more than 30 non-government organizations in Europe are pushing for the European Parliament to create a continental fund that supports green policies for ship recycling.
90 percent of old ships are dumped on the developing world
One of the reasons why current ship breaking practices make us at Kazan Law so angry is that these responsibilities are often dumped on developing countries. In fact, the Center for Land Use Interpretation, or CLUI, estimates that 90 percent of the world’s ships are sent to Pakistan, Bangladesh and India to be broken apart.
What’s the danger there? For one thing, many old ships used asbestos as a form of insulation in their engine rooms and other areas. People who work to break the ships apart are at serious risk for diseases such as malignant pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 107,000 people from all over the planet die annually because of illnesses caused by asbestos exposure on the job. That includes those who work as ship breakers. However, asbestos isn’t the only thing that puts people’s health at risk. Mineral oil, bilge water, heavy metals such as lead and mercury, and other chemicals are also hazardous.
Countries try to go green
It’s easy to cut corners on ship breaking, but there are several NGOs in Europe that refuse to stand idly by as both the environment and people are imperiled. More than 30 groups, including Greenpeace and the International Federation of Human Rights, signed a petition to the European Parliament to support green ship recycling practices.
An environmental committee within the European Parliament voted to create a continental fund that would encourage European countries to bear the management costs of handling the hazardous waste from ships. The petition calls on the whole parliament to implement the proposal. Money for the fund would come from fees levied on ships calling on any port in the European Union.
The governing body is scheduled to vote on the fund April 18. Additionally, they’ll vote on whether to ban beaching, an irresponsible practice in which ships are broken apart on tidal beaches instead of impermeable floors.
In addition to protecting both the environment and workers’ health, ship recycling advocates also support greater bargaining rights for individuals who work as ship breakers.
How does the U.S. deal with its own ships?
Federal law in the U.S. requires that most ships be disposed of within this country. Most of these jobs take place at sites in Virginia, Maryland and Texas. Once the ships are sufficiently dismantled and cleaned by firms specializing in these jobs, they can be used for sinking in live-fire military training exercises. Also, one environmentally conscious practice used for clean and empty ships is to sink them offshore for the purposes of establishing new coral reefs. These sites also provide curiosities for scuba divers.