Maersk’s decision to switch flags on near end of life vessels in order to permit them to be beached and dismantled at yards in Alang in defiance of EU regulations against the practice was widely condemned when announced recently. Maersk’s decision to make use of selected facilities in Alang came after inspections by the company itself and confirmation by ClassNK that the chosen facilities met the Hong Kong Convention requirements. This week, ECSA (European Community Shipowners’ Association) has come out in support of Maersk issuing a statement that declares ‘Responsible recycling in Alang should be supported rather than dismissed’. According to the statement, an ECSA delegation has recently returned from a study trip to Alang, India to witness first-hand the important investments made in a number of ship recycling yards to ensure compliance with the Hong Kong Convention. It reports that heavy investments have been made to place concrete flooring, effective drainage systems, appropriate downstream management and more decent housing for the workers. “Alang and other places in South Asia have for years been criticised for poor standards – and rightly so, but, a positive development has begun and this should be supported not undermined”, said ECSA President Niels Smedegaard, “Whilst there are yards where improvements are clearly necessary, others have already taken the lead in changing their recycling practices to reflect advanced modern standards.” “Unfortunately, the signals sent from the European Commission are all but encouraging”, said ECSA Secretary General Patrick Verhoeven, “The guidelines on which recycling yards have to base their application do not differentiate between hazardous and non-hazardous waste which de facto excludes all yards in India, even the most advanced ones. We believe that this is disproportional and will simply discourage yards from making further investments to raise standards.” ECSA says that it fully supports the decision of several large shipowners to audit and assess for themselves the recycling practices in Alang. “This is not a matter of lowering standards, but rather to the contrary a way of rewarding those recycling facilities that have now raised their standards to match those of leading shipowners”, concluded Patrick Verhoeven, “By committing tonnage to responsible facilities in Alang, these shipowners also commit staff and resources to monitor and share best practices, effectively shaping the future of the region.” For ECSA, the EU now stands at a very important crossroad as regards responsible ship recycling. It can either be an enabler of development and reward pioneering Indian yards by giving them a fair chance to be on the EU list or it can confirm the view of many EU-sceptics and completely ignore important global developments. The overall aim of the EU Regulation must be to improve the environmental and social conditions in the ship recycling industry. This cannot be done if the EU prohibits EU flagged vessels from supporting the positive development in leading yards. It should be noted that leading the protest against Maersk was the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, although this organisation has now been joined by others. As ShipInsight has reported before, ShipBreaking platform relies upon the EU in the shape of the European Commission LIFE Programme for almost 70% of its funding and one wonders if the €161,000 donated by the EU in 2015 might not have been better spent sending an official EU delegation to visit the facilities to see for themselves. On many shipping matters the EU has consistently acted against the best interests of its own shipowners and operators and has undermined the IMO as the source of global shipping regulation in matters such as SOx emissions, monitoring and reporting of emissions and even at one time threatening to impose an Emission Trading Scheme on shipping and aviation. With the possibile loss of around €11Bn in contributions if the UK votes next week to leave the EU, perhaps EU shipowners might benefit if as a result funding to bodies such as Shipbreaking Platform has to be rethought.