Cruise ship disposal revealed: From ‘closely governed’ UK to ‘unregulated’ yards in Asia

One cruise company has revealed recently that they will be removing several ships from its fleets due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But some cruise ships aren’t always disposed of in the best way. In fact, the disposal process can be both harmful to the environment and the people who work to break down a ship. The Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL) has warned that the coronavirus pandemic could cause long term damage to the cruise sector with more companies looking to dispose of their vessels.

Iain Butterworth, a member of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers’ (FOIL) Environmental SFT and Solicitor at Thomas Miller Law spoke exclusively to about some of the poor practices than can take place when ships are disposed of.

Butterworth explained that he began his career as a Marine Engineer on vessels and is now a Marine Lawyer and Consultant.

“I’ve seen ships being cut up in front of my eyes in various jurisdictions,” he explained.

He continued: “I’m aware of all of the issues in how this should and shouldn’t be done.”

The cruise industry has been one of the worst effected from the pandemic within the travel sector, and Butterworth agrees that this will only drive up the number of vessels that are disposed of.

“There are plans from different companies to dispose of a number of vessels and this was, to an extent, brought about by the massive reduction in the ability for people to travel on cruise ships,” he explained.

Butterworth said that cruise ships and ferries only made up around 0.3 percent of the world’s shipping dead weight tonnage in 2017/2018.

But he said the pandemic’s impact on the economy will effect ship disposal.

He continued: “They say we’re heading into an unprecedented recession which will bring about a reduction in world trade.

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“If that happens, as per the cruise ships, you’re going to have all sorts of other classifications of merchant vessels surplus to requirement.

“And whether that’s oil tankers, container ships or cargo ships I think what we’re going to see is a period where there’s going to be some rationalisation in the market.

“There’s going to be a lot of lay-ups of ships which tends to happen when vessels finish their useful life and go straight to the scrap yard but in the past, in periods where there has been a downturn in shipping, like the last recession, we saw a lot of ships across the board being laid up in safe anchorages.

“Potentially hundreds of ships just sat off in safe anchorages – sat off the coast.”

But dangerous ship disposal is more common in Asia than it is in Europe.

“It’s closely governed from an EU perspective but when you start looking at South Asia, in particular Alang [in Bangladesh], they say that they are green recycling yards, and they’re just not.

“It’s not just the environment aspect of it but the health and safety and essentially the use of incredibly cheap labour.”

He explained that the best prices tend to be in Alang because of the cheap labour and their overheads, which are low compared to European yards.

Ship owners who have their vessels registered in an EU country, can only send their ships for recycling to an EU-registered ship recycling facility, explained Butterworth.

Butterworth said that almost all tonnage is sent to Southeast Asia where it is “largely unregulated”.

“There is still a big problem there,” he said.

There is a tendency to sell vessels to Bangladesh, explained Butterworth, because of the price of steel.

Unfortunately, he explained, Bangladeshi workers often get paid very little for their hard labour per day.

“There’s a lot of child labour there – it’s a very simplistic way of dismantling ships”, he said.

He added: “They’re driven up onto the coastline, essentially a beach, and then bit by bit they’re chopped up with burning gear and broken up with sledge hammers.

“There’s nothing sophisticated about it, that’s why the overheads are so low. The consequence of that are that these ships are dismantled on the beach.

“There is no environmental protection, it’s not just the oils in the vessel but it’s the paint from the hulls of the vessel that are chipped off, as the vessels are cut-up the steel filings find there way into the sand and vessels contain all sorts of sludges, asbestos – there’s just no protection for the environment or workers.”

“It’s unregulated and it’s allowed to go on unchecked really.

He explained that this does not occur in all yards in Bangladesh but it does take place.

CLIA has been contacted for comment.

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