Platform News – Investigations ongoing after Norwegian authorities press charges against owners of Harrier

The HARRIER is still under arrest in Norway after its owners failed to illegally set sail for the dangerous and dirty scrapping yards in Gadani, Pakistan, last February. The owners are now forced to find a safe and environmentally sound recycling destination. In parallel, investigations are still ongoing following the charges pressed by the Norwegian environmental authorities against the owners of the TIDE CARRIER for having attempted to breach existing waste trade laws [1].

 

At the edge of bankruptcy, Eide Group sold the previously named EIDE CARRIER, which had been laid up for 10 years, to cash buyer Wirana, a scrap dealer specialized in trading toxic ships to dirty and dangerous scrapping yards in South Asia. Wirana registered the vessel under an anonymous Saint Kitts and Nevis post box company called Julia Shipping Inc. The ship was renamed TIDE CARRIER and supposedly changed registry to the Paris MoU black-listed flag of Comoros. Based on fraudulent information that the vessel was heading for repair works in the Middle-East, Norwegian authorities allowed the ship to leave the west coast of Norway on 22 February 2017.

 

Had Wirana disclosed that the true destination was the beach of Gadani in Pakistan the vessel would not have been allowed to depart: exporting ships for dirty and dangerous scrapping is illegal under international waste trade laws. All ships contain many toxic materials within their structure and in their paints and the law requires that these should be managed in a way that protects people and the environment from harm. Extremely low operating standards at the beaching yards enable them to offer higher prices for the ships than facilities that operate in line with safety and environmental norms. Wirana knows this and the law very well, and for the sake of extra profits they therefore presented a fake contract for repairs in Oman.

 

However, the ship’s deteriorating condition caused the engine to stop only hours after its departure. Despite stormy weather, the vessel’s new captain from Nabeel Ship Management did not call for help. The risk of oil spill and grounding close to one of the most known beaches in Norway was high and was only dodged thanks to the Norwegian coastguard’s decision to trigger a salvage operation. An environmental disaster in Norway was avoided, and with the arrest of the ship in April the Norwegian authorities effectively averted another environmental injustice on the Gadani beach, where it was actually destined for scrap. Less than a year ago Gadani saw the worst shipbreaking catastrophe of the industry’s history[2].

 

Already in the summer of 2015, the Platform was informed that the vessel had been sold for breaking. Confronted with the illegality of exporting the ship to South Asia, Eide Group denied that the vessel would be scrapped at the time. One and a half years later, after the ship had been salvaged and was laid up in Gismarvik, the Environment Agency and the police found evidence that the vessel was under a “break up voyage” insurance from Norway to Gadani, Pakistan. That, and the fact that the contact person for Julia Shipping Inc in the sales contract that dated from summer 2015 is Keyur J. Dave, Chief Financial Officer at Wirana, are clear indicators that the vessel was headed to a scrap yard in Pakistan when it left Norway. All vessels broken in South Asia pass via the hands of a cash buyer. Singapore-based Wirana and US-based GMS are the two largest cash buyers, both of which are inherently entangled with the South Asian breakers.

 

Consequently, it became clear that the repair contract in Oman which had been provided to the Norwegian authorities as a way to escape checks for the illegal export of the vessel was false. The Norwegian Environment Ministry therefore rejected the complaint of Julia Shipping Inc, represented by law firm Wikborg Rein, for the arrest order. The post-box company Julia Shipping Inc refuses to reveal its ownership structure. To further point to the lack of accountability, the Norwegian newspaper, Bergens Tidende, revealed in a longer article, published in August, that when the Norwegian authorities had contacted the Comoros registry regarding the TIDE CARRIER, the Comoros registry answered that they did not have any information about the ship being registered under their flag. Only days later the vessel changed name again to HARRIER and swapped flags again to that of another Paris MoU black-listed flag: Palau. Both Comoros and Palau are popular end-of-life flags. In 2016, out of 668 ships that were beached, 42 had the flag of Palau and 47 were beached under the flag of Comoros. The now-called HARRIER is not allowed to leave Norway unless it is to sail to a ship recycling destination in line with international and European hazardous waste laws.

 

In the meantime the owners of the HARRIER owe the private port of Gismarvik and GMC Maritime several million NOK as port fees. The vessel left Gismarvik in June and is now anchored off the coast of Farsund where two crew members remain confined onboard the ship and the continuous use of the ship’s engine is creating unneglectable nuisance to local inhabitants.

 

© Jon Ingemundsen

This is not the first time that cash buyers seek to circumvent environmental protection laws by providing fake sales or repair contracts. The Norwegian owned CITY OF TOKYO was allowed to leave the port of Antwerp under the pretense of repair work in Dubai – instead it sailed directly to the infamous beaching yards in Bangladesh. The FPSO NORTH SEA PRODUCER was also illegally exported from the UK to Bangladesh under the pretense of further operational use in Nigeria. Cash buyer GMS used grey- and black listed Paris MoU flags and established anonymous post box companies in both cases.

 

The TIDE CARRIER case reveals the typical business practices of ship owners and cash buyers, and adds to several other cases where authorities have been lied to and provided false information as a way to escape checks for the illegal export of end-of-life ships. At least in the TIDE CARRIER case, the Norwegian authorities have so far not been gullible to fall for the well-known tricks of the game.

 

 

NOTES

 

[1] See the Norwegian environmental authorities’ press release.

[2] See also our release on a second accident that took place earlier this year.

 

Platform News – NGOs maintain pressure on owners and scrap dealers of FPSO North Sea Producer

 

16 August of last year the FPSO NORTH SEA PRODUCER was beached in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The ship was allowed to leave the UK based on the false promise that it would be further operationally used in the Tin Can port in Nigeria. One year on, the battle to hold the owners and cash buyers accountable for the illegal export of the FPSO is not over.

 

The North Sea Producer (ex Dagmar Maersk) was deployed in the McCulloch field in the North Sea, transporting and extracting oil from the UK continental shelf for 17 years, and was owned by the North Sea Production Company, a single-ship joint venture between the Danish A.P. Moeller Maersk and the Brazilian Odebrecht. Once the field closed, the NORTH SEA PRODUCER was laid up in Teesport for a year while the owners were looking for buyers. For scrapping purposes the ship was only allowed to be sold to a facility within the OECD as any export of hazardous waste outside the OECD is in breach of International and EU law. However, selling the FPSO to a recycler that could safely handle all the hazards of the ship within the OECD would have meant that the owners would not have made as big a profit as selling it to less scrupulous breakers operating on tidal beaches in South Asia. Maersk and Odebrecht thus settled to sell the ship to the largest vessels’ scrap dealer, cash buyer GMS, through a St. Kitts and Nevis post box company called Conquistador Shipping Corporation, and provided the UK authorities with a false contract stating that the NORTH SEA PRODUCER had found a new owner who would operate the ship in Nigeria.

 

Despite the vessel being under the radar of local communities in Teesside and was well-known in the shipping industry for needing to be scrapped, the UK authorities relied on the false contract to allow the FPSO to leave on tug. The NORTH SEA PRODUCER was then directly towed all the way from the UK, around the African continent, to Bangladesh. NGOs were quick to alert both the UK and Bangladesh governments of the illegal export [1]. It was only once the FPSO had left the UK – and after the case was strongly criticised in Danish and international press – that Maersk was “very, very sorry” that Conquistador Shipping Corporation apparently took the independent decision to beach the NORTH SEA PRODUCER in Chittagong for dirty and dangerous scrapping. Maersk has since claimed in its Sustainability Report 2016 that it has cut all commercial ties with the buyer of the NORTH SEA PRODUCER: an obviously meaningless statement if that implies cutting ties with a single-ship post box company. Maersk however still refuses to admit that they sold the ship to GMS, the largest waste traffickers in end-of-life ships, as doing so would clearly indicate that they knew all along that the ship would directly head to a scrap yard. It was evident that the bungalow in St Kitts and Nevis, where Conquistador Shipping Corporation was just the shell company set up by GMS to make it look like it was sold to a legitimate buyer, would not further operate the FPSO. Or was Maersk fooled by the tricks of the trade? Did they really believe that the ship would continue to operate under the ownership of the world’s largest scrap dealer? Chances are they were not fooled at all, but were in fact orchestrators of an illegal export alongside GMS.

 

Once the ship arrived at Janata Steel in Chittagong, and upon alerts issued by local NGOs, the Bangladesh Attorney General of the Department of Environment set up a special committee to determine the presence of contaminated residues, and to investigate the ship’s illegal import due to lack of necessary clearances and false claims that it was hazardous-free. Having operated in the North Sea, the vessel’s pipelines are likely to contain residues contaminated by radioactive materials and sulphur. Other toxics, such as asbestos and heavy metals, are contained within the structure and paints of the ship. Upon a request from the Platform’s member organisation Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA), the report on the ship’s condition was released in June: it’s conclusion was that radioactive residues were found upon inspection and that further surveys needed to be carried out on the whole ship. BELA subsequently succeeded in getting an injunction on the breaking of the North Sea Producer until October, which is when the Court will resume the case after the Eid recess.

The North Sea Producer beached in Chittagong – © NGO Shipbreaking Platform

In the UK, the Platform demanded the Secretary of State for Environment, Andrea Leadsom, to investigate the illegal export from Teesport [2]. DEFRA has been looking into the case for nine months now, and the Platform recently requested that they share information on their findings and on the action which they will be taking against the fraudulent and illegal export. In parallel Danish parliamentarians have been questioning the Environment Minister, Esben Lunde Larsen, on what actions Denmark can take to hold Maersk accountable.

 

One year on since the beaching of the NORTH SEA PRODUCER, the story is thus far from over. One year on and there are legal proceedings in the exporting state, the UK, and the importing state, Bangladesh, to hold Maersk, Odebrecht, GMS and the importers accountable for their illegal trade of a highly toxic and particularly risky ship to dismantle.

 

 

NOTES

 

[1] See our release.

 

[2] Read the letter.