Platform News – No more dead workers!

Platform calls for responsible solution for Berge Stahl, flag ship of the Port of Rotterdam


The Berge Stahl, one of the world’s largest iron ore bulkers, made its last visit at the Port of Rotterdam last week. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform calls on the ship owner, Berge Bulk, and the Dutch authorities to ensure the responsible recycling of the 30 year old vessel. Berge Bulk, founded and lead by James Marshall and headquartered in Singapore, is one of the world’s largest operators of dry bulkers and has recently sold several of its end-of-life ships to substandard shipbreaking yards on the beaches of South Asia. At least two workers were killed and four more injured at Seiko Steel shipbreaking yard in Bangladesh earlier this year while the bulker company’s Berge Matterhorn was under demolition there. The Berge Stahl has called at Rotterdam’s ore terminal 249 times over the last 25 years. It was for a long time the largest dry bulk vessel in the world and considered to be the Port of Rotterdam’s unofficial ‘flag ship’. The Port of Rotterdam bid farewell to its iconic ship last week.

"Both the Port of Rotterdam and the Dutch authorities must have an interest in the responsible recycling of its ‘flag ship’ that made many in the port proud and regularly attracted fans. We call on Berge Bulk, a company so far known for irresponsible shipbreaking practices with fatal consequences to see this as an opportunity to review its scrapping practices and commit to responsible recycling. For a company that claims that ‘sustainability is at the core of everything we do’ and promises ‘people first’ and ‘clean planet’, ship recycling in a modern facility off the beach is mandatory. Dead workers and a polluted environment in Bangladesh do not go well together with the desired clean image."
Patrizia Heidegger - Executive Director - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Apart from the fatal and severe accidents at the yard that was cutting down the Berge Matterhorn in Bangladesh, the Berge Vik and the Berge Prosperity ended up on the beaches of Gadani, Pakistan, in May last year. The destination has recently been shaken by the worst explosion in the history of the shipbreaking industry that resulted in at least 28 workers dead and more than 50 men severely injured.


Given the age of the vessel and the current low freight rates, experts assume that the Berge Stahl is soon going for demolition. When the vessel arrived in Rotterdam, the Platform alerted the Dutch authorities to ensure that the ship, which becomes hazardous waste under European and international environmental law once there is an intent to sell it for scrap, will not be illegally exported to the infamous shipbreaking beaches of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. While the authorities have taken the case very seriously, Berge Bulk was able to reassure them that the vessel will continue to be operated and will go for dry docking in China. The Platform is now closely monitoring every move of the ship.

"The vessel’s story is a very good example of why a European Ship Recycling License is necessary to ensure responsible ship recycling in the future. The Berge Stahl has been coming to Rotterdam for 25 years on a very regular basis delivering iron ore for German steel producer Thyssen. If Berge Bulk had set aside funds over 25 years through a mandatory Ship Recycling License, the ship owner would now have a strong incentive to recycle it in an EU-approved facility in order to be able to recover the accumulated moneys – even though the CEO sits in Singapore and could easily circumvent the European Ship Recycling Regulation by swapping the ship’s current flag, Isle of Man, to one outside the EU. We call on European lawmakers to effectively regulate the end-of-life fate of ships that have such close ties to EU trade by supporting financial incentives such as the Ship Recycling License."
Ingvild Jenssen - Policy Director - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Press Release – Danish opposition parties call on Government to stop beaching of Maersk vessels

Questioned Minister lacks political direction on ship recycling


The Danish Environment Minister, Esben Lunde Larsen, had to answer to the Parliament yesterday following questions put to the Government by all the opposition parties. The long list of questions had been drafted two months earlier, prompted by the revelations of Maersk’s shipbreaking practices in South Asia by the Danish investigative journalists, Danwatch, and the daily newspaper Politiken. All opposition parties called on the Danish Government to ensure that Maersk’s end-of-life vessels cannot be broken down in beaching yards.


Apart from a semi-attempt to filibuster by reading out the already available written answers and paraphrasing the Hong Kong Convention, the Minister insisted on quoting technical details and the obligation to follow the law. He was unable to give political direction on how the Government would work to stop Danish companies’ use of the polluting and dangerous beaching practices in South Asia and on Maersk’s threat to swap the Danish flag for a non-EU flag if the EU does not approve ship recycling on the beaches of Alang. The MPs present, representing the spectrum of Danish opposition political parties (including Social democrat member of parliament, Christian Rabjerg Madsen, and the head of Socialistisk Folkeparti, Pia Olsen Dyhr, as well as Ida Auken from Radikale Venstre, Christian Poll from Alternativet, and Marie Reumert Gjerding from Enhedslisten) and the Chair (Pia Adelsteen from Dankse Folkeparti), incessantly pressed the Minister to answer concrete and direct questions on the Danish government’s position on beaching, Maersk’s threat to flag out, and whether the government is pressing the EU Commission to list beaching yards in Alang on the upcoming EU list of accepted facilities world-wide.


If ships were broken on beaches in Denmark there would be an uproar, the MPs stated. They asked the Minister to outline how he thought safe working conditions and protection from pollution could ever be ensured when dismantling a vessel in the intertidal zone of a beach, and clearly requested the Minister to provide strong political support to end beaching. To all the questions and comments, the Minister however repeatedly appealed to his ignorance about the shipbreaking industry and to the literal text of the EU guidelines under the Ship Recycling Regulation. Whilst the Minister admitted that flagging out to circumvent EU law is not compatible with responsible business practices, he refused to answer how he would make sure that Danish shipping companies only use facilities that are on the upcoming EU List of approved recycling practices, and which is not expected to include facilities that use the beaching method. Clearly, Minister Lunde Larsen, in the two months he had to prepare before the meeting with the MPs, chose to only be briefed by the interested lobby groups who promote beaching practices; most notably the biggest company in Denmark, Maersk.

"It is shocking that the Minister gave no political comment or direction, but rather only contained a copy-pasted quotation fed to him by Maersk. It reveals the lack of political backbone when we see that Maersk is in such a powerful position to issue statements on behalf of the Danish government and that the Minister seems to believe this is acceptable."
Ingvild Jenssen - Policy Director - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

The insistent drilling by the MPs to the Minister on the government’s position on beaching left no time for Esben Lunde Larsen to answer all questions. The MPs would have particularly liked to go into more depth on issues related to the government policy to enhance the ship recycling industry in Denmark, and crucially on the government’s engagement to investigate on the illegal export of the Maersk-owned oil production and storage tanker, North Sea Producer, from the UK to Bangladesh. At the end of the meeting, Pia Olsen Dyhr (SF) called for another meeting with the Minister to discuss these issues more in detail.




Platform News – Worker killed in yard breaking German-owned container ship “Viktoria Wulff”

On 4 December, worker Shah Jahan was killed on the spot at Arefin shipbreaking yard in Chittagong, Bangladesh, where German container ship “Viktoria Wulff” (IMO 9252101) is currently being dismantled on the beach. The 35-year old man, who was made to work without any safety measures, was struck on the head by a heavy iron piece.


German ship owner Wulff went bankrupt in August and the insolvency administrator is currently selling off the company’s remaining vessels. The “Viktoria Wulff” became the youngest container ship to be sold for demolition at an age of only 10 years without a previous accident.

"The story of the ‘Viktoria Wulff’ is characteristic for the failed business practices of German KG ship owners as well as ship funds. Nearly 600 ships have been sold due to insolvencies and financial problems since 2008, many of which ended up on the South Asian beaches. The bill for the ship owners’ and investors’ greed for profit is paid by workers and the environment in destinations like Bangladesh, where ships end up without any consideration of the human and environmental costs. It is a scandal that German liquidators, who are appointed by the courts, sell end-of-life ships to substandard breaking yards risking peoples’ lives through deals that are in clear breach of international and even domestic Bangladeshi law just to sort out the books for German ship owners."
Patrizia Heidegger- Executive Director - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

This is not the first case of fatal accidents in the shipbreaking yards of South Asia that the Platform was able to link to bankruptcies of German ship owners. Last year, the Platform, together with broadcaster NDR, revealed the case of the “King Justus” which was sold after the insolvency of König & Cie. A worker was killed breaking the ship on the beaches of Alang, India. At the time, the Environment Minister of North German state Lower Saxony also criticised NordLB, a bank with a major shipping portfolio overseen by the State Government, for its involvement in the financing of the ship.


In Bangladesh, fatal accidents in the shipbreaking industry remain very frequent, a situation that is widely known – but largely ignored – by the shipping industry, insolvency administrators selling off unwanted ships, as well as by the brokers and cash buyers setting up the end-of-life deals. German owners have had at least 32 old ships ramped up on the beaches of Bangladesh this year. With 83 end-of-life vessels sold to beaching yards in South Asia in 2016, German ship owners top the list of global dumpers together with Greek shipping lines. Several end-of-life sales were in direct breach of the European Waste Shipment Regulation that bans the export of hazardous waste to developing countries. The “Viktoria Wulff” was most probably traded through an anonymous cash buyer using the end-of-life flag St Kitts and Nevis before it was beached in Chittagong.

"Only in 2016, at least 19 shipbreaking workers were killed and another 11 severely injured in the Bangladesh yards. The accident rate remains shockingly high and is not coming down, despite the promises of the yard owners and cash buyers. The shipbreaking yards have to be moved away from the muddy beaches to clean and safe ship recycling facilities using quays and docks where cranes can be operated to safely move cut steel sections. Otherwise, the death count of beaching will not come to a halt."
Patrizia Heidegger- Executive Director - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

In an attempt to hide the accident, the yard management kept the body of Shah Jahan inside the premises, but fellow workers and locals rushed to the site and started demonstrating. The body was consequently sent to the morgue of the Chittagong Medical College Hospital. The following day, the worker was quickly buried without a post mortem. Platform member organisations in Bangladesh attended the funeral and now seek to support the victim’s relatives. The family and the yard owners have settled for a one-off payment and a monthly allowance to help them cover their living costs. However, money will not be able to replace Shah Jahan who leaves behind a wife and a young child.