When Maersk decided earlier this year to sell two end-of-life ships to beaching yards in Alang, India, a broad coalition of European environmental and human rights NGOs denounced the move. It is expected that Maersk has to scrap at least 20 ships in the near future in addition to the recently announced selling of a large number of supply vessels from its oil and gas subsidiaries.
“Environmental and human rights experts have criticised Maersk for taking this U-turn on its earlier progressive ship recycling policy for the sake of extra profits to be made at the beaching yards. The shipping line is no longer a ‘guiding star’ for the maritime industry as it has now become one of the strongest lobbyists for the low-cost method of beaching” said Patrizia Heidegger, Executive Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
While Maersk has invited international and Danish journalists to a tour of the Alang shipbreaking yards this week, environmental and human rights experts deplore the lack of transparency and the unwillingness to share information on the environmental and social impacts of breaking the Wyoming and Georgia at Shree Ram shipbreaking yard in Alang.
“We are aware of the fact that Maersk is hosting a visit to Alang for selected journalists this week. Whilst we were initially also asked to join, we were suddenly uninvited. Maersk told us the visit was postponed. In reality, Maersk got cold feet and did not want their PR event disturbed by critical voices,” said Patrizia Heidegger.
Strange déjà vu? Earlier this year, the Platform was also uninvited by the European Community of Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) when they organised a two-day visit to Alang for selected EU Member State representatives and national ship owners’ associations. Neither NGOs nor trade unions were allowed to join the visit. The Platform strongly criticised ECSA’s report from the visit for turning a blind eye on the problems of beaching.
Maersk had promised to carry out supposedly independent research on the social and working conditions in the shipbreaking yards of Alang. However, apart from dismissing the independent researchers it had originally contacted, there is no indication whether this research will now be independent or indeed be carried out at all.
“Maersk continues to ignore the many grave shortcomings of the beaching method, including its inability to ensure containment of pollutants in the intertidal zone and to guarantee the highest level of occupational safety,” Patrizia Heidegger said. “Maersk has failed to give satisfactory answers to the long list of critical questions we have raised regarding their new ship recycling standard and the way the Wyoming and Georgia are being broken,” she added.
The damaging environmental impacts of breaking ships in the intertidal zone of a beach are well known: slag, toxic paint particles and debris including metal scrap and plastics are released into the environment when the ship is torched. Large metal pieces are simply dropped onto the sand or into the sea. Alarming levels of air, water and soil contamination at beaching yards have clearly been documented. Moreover, ship breaking is a heavy industry with a high risk of accidents. The lack of a proper hospital in Alang has, however, not stopped Maersk from selling their ships to Shree Ram.
For the sake of the extra profits made by selling their ships to yards that have not invested in proper infrastructure, Maersk is now actively promoting the beaching method – a method that is banned in Europe, the US and China. Until recently, Maersk itself loudly denounced the beaching method for its poor standards and lack of innovation, now it threatens to flag out from the Danish registry if the EU does not give in and accept beaching yards, a move that has been strongly criticised by the Clean Shipping Coalition.
“We are calling for sustainable ship recycling off the beach and investments in modern ship recycling facilities. Instead of lobbying for the beaching method, the world’s biggest ship owner should align itself with the responsible ship owners that have committed to using facilities that pass the EU test of sustainable practices and should serve as the guiding star of innovation and engineering solutions,” said Patrizia Heidegger.