The European Commission (EC) is set to confirm its latest draft list of approved recycling yards but questions remain over its application of the EU Ship Recycling Regulation (EU SRR) in making its selections.
Its revised list was made public in early August for a four-week consultation period that ended yesterday (31 August). Three comments had been posted when the deadline passed, including one from the European Community Shipowners’ Associations which is “strongly disappointed that ship recycling facilities from the main recycling states, and especially India, are still not included in the EU list despite their strong quality improvements over the last years.”
It also notes that the Turkish yards on the list are not available for Cyprus-flagged ships, a restriction that it says “is in breach of EU law (Article 18 of the TFEU general principle of non-discrimination) and international law (UNCLOS Convention).”
However, the EC’s Ship Recycling Regulation Team (SRR Team) told me that it expects this list to be formally adopted by the Commission around mid-October, following a formal vote by EU member states, so I do not expect any changes in response to ECSA’s comments.
This is the seventh such list and will replace the current version, which has been in effect since January. As before, it includes 41 yards, which are located in the same 15 countries as previously but with a different distribution, as shown in the table. Also in common with all previous lists, no southeast Asian yard is included.
When I wrote about the EU SRR a few weeks ago, I quoted David Balston, director of policy at the UK Chamber of Shipping, as saying that those yards’ absence from the list was because the EU took an “unhelpful and potentially arrogant” attitude to southeast Asian ship recycling yards and I had exchanged emails with the EC’s SRR Team to understand its position.
I had also drawn attention to the section of the EU SRR that sets out how applications for inclusion on the list will be assessed. A report from an independent verifier (IV) is essential and the EC may commission its own inspection. But in practice, the SRR Team told me, “the commission has systematically been carrying out its own inspections.”
I believe this is contrary to the regulation’s intention which, as I read it, is to prioritise the IVs’ assessments.
My remarks prompted considerable debate on LinkedIn, mostly inspired by Pablo Rodas-Martini, an expert on environmental regulation in shipping. He was disappointed in my commentary because – among other things – I did not mention the Ship Recycling Transparency Initiative or the ShipBreaking Platform. Although those are both excellent organisations, I was writing specifically about the EU SRR and the Hong Kong Convention, and my article was quite long enough as it was.
He also entreated his readers that there should be “no more outbursts by Brexiteers against the European Union,” which I found a surprising response. As it happens, I am not a Brexiteer, but no-one, – whether Brexiteer or Remainer, EU national or global citizen – should be expected to avoid legitimate questions about the EU’s activities. Dr Rodas-Martini declined my invitation to engage in a one-to-one discussion outside of LinkedIn.
When and why?
The interest shown by the responses to his remarks encouraged me to exchange further emails with the SRR Team to try to understand two details in particular.
First, I wanted to nail down why the commission systematically conducts its own yard inspections, when both the EU SRR and the commission’s guidance notes are clear that these are optional extras. So I asked the commission when and why the decision was taken to make them mandatory.
And second, the commission’s inspections of yards in the Alang recycling area all mention the distance to the nearest hospital. This one, for example, reports an inspection at the Priya Blue Industries yard, and notes that “the only public hospital with sufficient emergency capabilities equipped to treat serious injuries is located in the city of Bhavnagar, approximately 1.5 hours’ drive away from the Alang yards.”
That is certainly a worry and I share the commission’s concern about this, but the EU SRR does not list the distance to hospital facilities as a factor to be taken into account when assessing a yard’s eligibility for inclusion on its list. So I asked the commission whether it takes this parameter into account and, if so, what distance it would consider to be acceptable.
I need to pay tribute at this point to the SRR Team for entertaining my questions and replying to them. In my experience, most organisations do not respond to difficult questions or, indeed, to any questions at all. But perhaps that’s just me.
Having said that, I did not get to the bottom of either of my questions.
On the question of why the commission ‘systematically’ arranges on its own reports, I was told that “there are differences in certification practices followed by IVs and the commission cannot simply approve facilities without having conducted its own assessment.”
And since many yards fail the EC’s inspections, even though their IV reports say they meet the requirements, I asked the SRR Team what its opinion was of IVs.
“The commission is not in a position to comment on individual practices followed by independent verifiers,” I was told, but they need to possess the necessary accreditations and qualifications detailed in the guidance notes, as linked above, and this is checked when assessing applications from yards in third countries.
Although the SRR Team could not comment about IVs, it must have a view about them. I have heard from one source that some IV reports are very sparse in their comments so, since the EU SRR puts the onus on the IVs to provide reports that can form the basis of a decision to list or not, I am surprised the commission has not asked IVs to review their practices.
The team declined to comment further on my specific point of when and why the decision to systematically conduct additional inspections was made so I sought advice from Dr Nikos Mikelis, the former-head of IMO’s ship recycling section and a driving force behind the Hong Kong Convention. He is now a non-executive director of the world’s largest cash buyer, GMS, and oversees its Green Ship Recycling Programme.
I asked him why he thought the EC insisted on conducting its own inspections and his reply was uncompromising. Although IVs have confirmed that some Indian yards meet the EU’s requirements, “the commission has not believed that it is appropriate or the right time to approve them,” he said. Instead, it has “relied on its agent to point to reasons why they should not be approved.” This, he said, gives the commission “an easier job in producing the approved yards in its list.”
Cure needed for hospitals
My second question was about the references to hospitals in many of the commission’s inspection reports and I agree with the SRR Team’s comment to me that “the absence of adequate hospital facilities in the Alang area is a serious problem, in view of the hazardous nature of the shipbreaking activities.”
A new hospital – the GMB Multi Speciality Hospital – opened last year that is closer to the yards than the one mentioned in the report I quoted above and this has improved the situation, the team acknowledged. However, “it appears that at present this facility has only limited emergency capabilities [and] discussions with yards and the Workers Union confirmed that this hospital has inadequate capacity for the whole Alang workforce and lack of capacity to treat serious injuries.”
I share the team’s concerns about this but where we part company is over its comment to me that “it is crucial to further improve the hospital situation before the commission can propose the inclusion of Alang yards.”
Dr Mikelis confirmed that this is not a requirement under the regulation and he told me of a new and wide road that is under construction and will reduce considerably the time needed to cover the 60km to the hospital in Bvanagar. Whether this will be sufficient to overcome the EC’s objection remains to be seen, since it did not indicate to me what distance it would consider acceptable, but Dr Mikelis wondered why, if the EU “is so concerned about hospitals in Alang, they don’t provide some aid to build one.”
I suggested to the SRR Team that, since its concern about hospital facilities is a factor in its consideration, an amendment is needed to the EU SRR to reflect that reality. It disagreed and pointed to the regulation’s Article 13, which says that approved recycling facilities in third countries “should achieve a high level of protection of human health and the environment that is broadly equivalent to that in the [European] Union.”
The commission’s interpretation of this is that “in the absence of adequate hospital facilities equipped to treat severe injuries associated with shipbreaking activities these requirements cannot be considered to have been met.” On that basis, its SRR Team told me, “we do not consider that we go beyond what is legally required [by] the EU SRR and do not see the need to amend it before this issue can be taken into account.”
But as I read the regulation, Article 13 refers to the welfare provisions in the yards themselves; it is wrong to penalise them because of concerns about health facilities over which they have no control.
Finally, I’ll turn to some related points raised by Dr Rodas-Martini in a second LinkedIn comment that referred to the Hong Kong Convention, but could be equally relevant to the EU SRR.
He listed three questions that he wanted to ask three class societies that issue statements of compliance (SoCs) to yards, specifically Lloyd’s Register, RINA and ClassNK.
In summary, he asked whether they issue these SoCs as classification societies or as “simple consultancy work”; whether the SoCs are checklists of a yard’s facilities or reflect any monitoring of actual recycling; and whether surveyors look beyond the yards to the local environmental conditions, in particular the beach at Alang.
I suggested in the LinkedIn discussion that it would be simple for him to put those points direct to the three organisations, but he felt that they would all see his questions and respond online.
None did, so I put his questions to the three organisations and Lloyd’s Register’s senior ship recycling specialist Jennifer Riley-James provided a detailed reply, which you can read on the society’s website.
In one section she says that its SoCs are delivered as part of its advisory services portfolio and notes that certification does not mean that a government will ratify the HKC nor that a facility will be EU listed. But it does provide “independent third-party evidence of the ability to comply with the statutory requirements.”
Having read that clear statement, my questions about why the EC’s interpretation of the same requirements reaches different conclusions are no nearer being answered.
She also reported that LR’s audit approach “ensures we are able to witness every aspect of the ship recycling process. … Without this comprehensive on-the-ground review and understanding of the recycling processes we would not be able to provide certification to recycling facilities.”
This has been a lengthy discussion but a necessary one. Every ship eventually needs recycling and this should be done in as an environmentally-friendly way as possible on a global scale.
This cannot be helped by excluding yards that are making efforts to meet international standards so I urge all those with an interest in this – IVs, the EC, IMO, cash buyers and shipowner and environmental organisations to name a few – to come together and resolve any differences and conflicts in their interpretations of the international and regional regulations. And if technical or financial aid is needed to raise standards, that should be considered.
These measures will go a long way to resolving the doubts and divisions that dog this essential industry.
- What is your view of the points in this article? Should the EC accept IV reports as sufficient to decide whether a yard can be listed? Should it take account of local hospital provision in assessing yards? Does the EU SRR need amending? Email me now with your views.