Ship recycling strategy sets minimum standards

All government-owned vessels sent for recycling will have to be recycled to minimum environmental standards, the UK’s ship recycling strategy says.1 The Ministry of Defence has already named a preferred bidder for the recycling of one of its vessels in accordance with the strategy.

Ship recycling has been an issue for the government since 2003 when four US naval vessels were imported for dismantling at Able UK’s yard in Hartlepool (ENDS Report 346, pp 28-30 ).

After legal challenges by environmental groups, it emerged that Able did not have planning consent or a waste management licence for the activity. The ‘ghost’ ships are still on Teesside.

The following year, the House of Commons Environment Committee called for a ship dismantling industry to be developed to end reliance on Asian shipyards (ENDS Report 358, p 41 ).

India, Pakistan and Bangladesh dominate the market but do not meet adequate environmental standards.

Some 30 Ministry of Defence vessels are scheduled to come out of operation by 2013, while 400 EU-flagged ships will require recycling by 2010 due to the phase-out of single-hull tankers.

In a change from the draft strategy issued last year (ENDS Report 375, pp 48-49 ), the Environment Department (DEFRA) now says government-owned vessels will only be sold for further use after an age, condition and value assessment has been carried out.

If "it is likely" that the vessel is close to the end of its life, it will be sent for recycling instead.

When a vessel is sent for recycling, the following conditions will apply:

  • Recycling will only be permitted in an OECD county.
  • Recycling must occur to minimum environmental, health and safety standards. These will be specified in tenders and can be expected to include a requirement for procedures to identify and treat potentially hazardous materials and for work to occur in a controlled environment so any pollutant losses can be monitored and managed.
  • Vessels exported outside the UK for recycling will be subject to the Basel Convention’s principles of prior-informed consent and environmentally sound management.

When a vessel is sold for further use, the government will only "negotiate" - not stipulate - the inclusion of similar provisions in sales contracts:

  • Ship owners cannot dispose of the vessel without the UK government’s prior consent.
  • They must "take appropriate steps" to ensure the vessel is recycled in a facility that meets acceptable health, safety and environmental standards.
  • The vessel must carry an updated Green Passport - an inventory of all potentially hazardous materials.

If the new owner breaches any contractual obligations, the government will consider legal action. The regulatory impact assessment accompanying the strategy admits such clauses "could depress the price" of the vessel.

The strategy goes on to set out the relevant waste controls applicable to the export of UK-flagged vessels for recycling. They will be subject to the notification requirements of the EU waste shipments Regulation, it says.

Given the range of hazardous materials found in vessels, it is likely they will be classified as hazardous waste and therefore may only be exported for recovery to OECD countries.

The strategy also calls on ship owners to review recycling practices in light of work by the International Maritime Organization to develop a ship recycling convention, due to be adopted in 2008/09.

In spite of the strategy not being published until late February, the Ministry of Defence Disposal Services Agency has already selected Leavesley International as the preferred bidder to recycle HMS Intrepid. The firm, based in Staffordshire, will begin recycling the vessel this year and is in the process of choosing a dry dock.

If the MoD deems the contract a success two other vessels will shortly go to tender.

Alongside the strategy, DEFRA has published guidance on ship recycling processes.2 This provides an overview of the technical and regulatory requirements for operating recycling facilities and a list of sources of assistance for establishing them.