According to new data released today by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, 443 ocean-going commercial ships and offshore units were sold for scrapping in 2022. Of these, 292 large tankers, bulkers, floating platforms, cargo- and passenger ships ended up for dirty and dangerous breaking on tidal beaches in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
Whilst the South Asian shipbreaking yards experienced the lowest turnover in over a decade, with a significant drop in terms of the number of ships scrapped, they remained the preferred destination for end-of-life vessels, dismantling 80% of the global end-of-life gross tonnage. The reasons for the plunge in the number of vessels scrapped in 2022 are multiple, with high ocean freight rates that made it profitable to continue operating older vessels and banks’ shortages in providing credits to companies for the purchase of end-of-life assets identified as the main drivers.
In South Asia, workers – often exploited migrants – are exposed to immense risks. Dangerous working conditions, including fires and falling steel plates, kill or seriously injure numerous workers. Many more are sickened by exposure to toxic fumes and substances that can be found within the ships’ structures. Coastal biomes, and the local communities depending on them, are devastated by toxic spills and air pollution due to the lack of infrastructure to contain, properly manage and dispose of hazardous materials.
In 2022, at least 10 workers lost their lives and 33 workers suffered injuries when breaking apart vessels on the beach of Chattogram, Bangladesh. Local sources also reported three deaths in Alang, India, and three injuries in Gadani, Pakistan. Some of these accidents took place onboard vessels owned by well-known shipping companies, such as Berge Bulk, Sinokor and Winson Oil.
DUMPERS 2022 – Worst practices
The 2022 worst country dumper was China. Chinese owners sold 28 ships for scrapping in South Asia, most of which were beached in Bangladesh. Russia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Greece follow with more than a dozen ships beached each.
Major dry bulk carrier Berge Bulk, which has figured amongst the worst corporate dumpers several years in a row, reached the top in 2022. The company scrapped four carriers in Bangladesh and India, reaching a total of 24 vessels beached in the last ten years. Berge Bulk’s scrapping practices stand in evident contrast with the company’s declared commitment to sustainability and safety. According to local sources, three separate accidents, causing injuries to three workers, occurred during the cutting of the BERGE KANGCHENJUNGA at Ferdous Steel yard in Bangladesh. On 3 March, Amirul broke his leg after a fall. On 27 April, an iron piece suddenly hit Sedan Das on his spine. On 2 August, Motin suffered burn injuries due to a fire. Shipping sources link cash buyer GMS to the sale of the BERGE KANGCHENJUNGA, re-named JENGA prior beaching.
Brazilian state-owned company Petrobras comes second for worst corporate practice. More than five years have passed since civil society organisations and trade unions urged the Brazilian government to stop the dumping of toxic end-of-life ships in the Global South. Yet, oil giant Petrobras sold another four of its old tankers and two of its old floating platforms for dismantling on South Asian beaches last year, reaching a total of 34 vessels beached in the last decade. The units were auctioned off to scrap dealers. According to shipping sources, at least three of the units were sold to cash buyer Best Oasis.
BW Offshore is another well-known company that dumped its toxic units on the beach last year. On 21 April, a worker lost his life at the Indian yard Priya Blue Industries, where BW Offshore’s Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) CIDADE DE SÃO VICENTE was being cut. Assisted by Arctic Shipbrokers, Grieg Green and cash buyer Best Oasis, the deal was branded as a green sale.
Back in January 2019, Norwegian pension fund KLP had blacklisted Nordic American Tankers (NAT), a Bermuda-registered company controlled from Norway by Herbjørn Hanson, following the sale of several tankers for dirty and dangerous scrapping at South Asian beaching yards. Yet, NAT seems not to have improved its policy since, with two additional NAT vessels ending up on the beaches of India and Pakistan last year.
Environmental and labour laws that regulate ship recycling exist, but they are ignored and easily circumvented by ship owners, often with the aid of scrap dealers known as cash buyers. These pay the highest price for end-of-life vessels, and typically re-name, re-register and re-flag the vessels on their last voyage to the beaching yards. More than half of the ships sold to South Asia in 2022 changed flag to one of the grey- and black-listed flags of Cameroon, Comoros, Palau, St Kitts & Nevis and Tanzania, often just weeks before hitting the beach. At least eight of these flag changes enabled ship owners to circumvent the EU Ship Recycling Regulation. Seven of these units, including one owned by Italian Finbeta SpA, ended up on a beach instead of being recycled in an EU-approved facility as the Regulation requires.
In 2022, a total of 49 ships were dismantled in Aliağa, Turkey, a site where currently six EU-approved ship recycling yards are located. Civil society organisations have raised concerns over the ship recycling operations in the region and massively mobilised over the summer to stop the import of the toxic-laden aircraft carrier SÃO PAULO. They flag serious breaches of national laws related to environmental permits, pollution, occupational health and safety and waste management in the sector. Two facilities, Şimşekler and Işıksan, were removed from the EU List in 2022 due to their failure to comply with the requirements set in the EU Ship Recycling Regulation. Furthermore, recently published audit reports of two other yards reveal several problems.
Dangerous and dirty practices are affecting also countries that rarely make ship recycling headlines. In Canada, the illegal breaking of barges and asbestos-laden vessels is negatively affecting the local residents and the indigenous people of Baynes Sound. On the opposite side of the Atlantic, the demolition of dozens of toxic ships is polluting the shores of Ghana.
Looking ahead, the number of ships that will need to be dismantled is expected to surge. At the same time, the growing focus on circularity and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions provide opportunities to transform the ship recycling sector. Already, forward-looking governments are developing policies to increase access to scrap steel for green steel production, coupling that with measures to encourage the development of sustainable ship recycling capacity. For instance, the United Arab Emirates have adopted a “no-beaching” rule and aim to attract vessels for dismantling in dry docks. The European Union’s Green Deal is, on its side, pushing major steel companies to explore ways of integrating ship recycling in their production line.