Environment: Commission proposes tighter laws on ship breaking

Environment: Commission proposes tighter laws on ship breaking


The European Commission today proposed new rules to ensure that European ships are only recycled in facilities that are safe for workers and environmentally sound. More than 1000 large old commercial ships, such as tankers and container vessels, are recycled for their scrap metal every year, but many European ships end up in substandard facilities on the tidal beaches of South Asia. These facilities mostly lack the environmental protection and safety measures needed to manage the hazardous materials contained in end-of-life ships. These include asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), tributyl tin and oil sludge. This leads to high accident rates and health risks for workers and extensive environmental pollution.

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Environment Commissioner Janez Poto─Źnik said: "Although the ship recycling sector has improved its practices, many facilities continue to operate under conditions that are dangerous and damaging. This proposal aims to ensure that our old ships are recycled in a way that respects the health of workers as well as the environment. It is a clear signal to invest urgently in upgrading recycling facilities.ö Commissioner Poto─Źnik presented the regulation jointly with Vice President Siim Kallas, Commissioner for Transport.

The new rules, which will take the form of a Regulation, propose a system of survey, certification and authorisation for large commercial seagoing vessels that fly the flag of an EU Member State, covering their whole life cycle from construction to operation and recycling.

This system builds upon the Hong Kong Convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships, which was adopted in 2009. Today's proposal aims to implement the Convention quickly, without waiting for its ratification and entry into force, a process which will take several years. To speed up the formal entry into force of the Hong Kong Convention, the Commission also presented today a draft decision requiring Member States to ratify the Convention.

Under the new system, European ships will have to draw up an inventory of the hazardous materials present on board, and apply for an inventory certificate. The amount of hazardous waste on board (including in cargo residues, fuel oil, etc.) must be reduced before the ship is delivered to a recycling facility.

Ship recycling facilities will have to meet a set of environmental and safety requirements in order to be included on a list of authorised facilities world wide. European ships will be allowed to be recycled only in facilities on the list. Some of the requirements to be met by the ship recycling facilities are stricter than those foreseen by the Hong Kong Convention. This will ensure better traceability for European ships, and will guarantee that the waste resulting from dismantling (and any hazardous materials it contains) is managed in an environmentally sound way.

To ensure compliance, the proposal requires ship owners to report to national authorities when they intend to send a ship for recycling. By comparing the list of ships for which they have issued an inventory certificate with the list of ships which have been recycled in authorized facilities, authorities will be able to spot illegal recycling more easily. The sanctions proposed in the Regulation will also be more specific and precise.

Next Steps

The Council and the European Parliament will now discuss the Commission proposal.


At present, the recycling of ships is governed by the Waste Shipment Regulation, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste to non-OECD countries. However, the existing legislation is not specifically designed for ships and is often circumvented. This stems from a lack of adequate recycling capacity in OECD countries ľ but it is also difficult to determine when a ship becomes waste and which country is exporting the ship. The new proposal aims to address the shortcomings of this legislation and to allow, under strict conditions, the recycling of EU-flagged ships in non-OECD countries.

In 2009, more than 90 % of European ships were dismantled in ship recycling facilities in non-OECD countries, some of which were substandard. The quantity of European end-of-life ships is significant, since 17 % of world tonnage is registered under an EU flag. This makes it a priority for the EU to improve ship dismantling practices worldwide.

Highly concerned about the negative health and environmental impacts of ship recycling, the Commission adopted an EU strategy for better ship dismantling on 19 November 2008. This strategy proposed a number of measures to improve ship recycling as soon as possible, without waiting for the entry into force of the Hong Kong Convention. Today's proposal builds on ideas contained in the strategy.

The Hong Kong Convention needs to be ratified by at least 15 major flag and recycling countries to enter into force. These countries should represent at least 40 % of the world fleet and a significant part (almost 50 %) of the recycling capacity available worldwide.