Press Release – Documentary reveals SBM’s toxic trade of ships in Alang

Dutch program Zembla recently released their investigation on SBM Offshore’s shipbreaking practices in South Asia. In a documentary shown on Dutch television, and now available on YouTube, Zembla reconstructs the last voyage and scrapping of the mercury-laden tanker YETAGUN, owned by the Dutch oil and gas multinational. 

 

Experts contracted by SBM Offshore warned the company about the high toxicity of the ship and that workers could inhale extremely dangerous mercury fumes during demolition, leading to lasting neurological damage or even death. E-mails and confidential documents obtained by Zembla show that SBM Offshore attempted to conceal the high concentration of mercury in the ship’s steel [1], in order to avoid clean-up costs. The gas tanker was sold for breaking to Hooghly Shipbreakers Ltd, a beaching yard in Alang, India [2].

 

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Zero Mercury Group had warned Indian authorities of the breach of international waste laws, and urged India to halt the import of the contaminated ship. Despite an initial rejection, the permission to import the vessel was eventually given. The circumstances under which the beaching and breaking of the vessel were allowed are still unclear, but documents obtained by the Platform show that the Indian authorities admitted lacking capacity to detect mercury contamination beyond the slops.

 

In their statements to Zembla, SBM Offshore and Hooghly Shipbreakers maintain that the demolition was carried out in a safe way, and hold forth a so-called Statement of Compliance with the Hong Kong Convention and inspection report - both issued by Japanese classification society ClassNK - as evidence. However, undercover recordings and discussions with several workers that dismantled the YETAGUN reveal a shocking account of the actual conditions at the beaching yard. Workers are not provided with appropriate personal protective equipment and were completely unaware of the poisonous mercury contamination. Several stated that full safety gear is distributed only when inspections take place. Toxicologists that have reviewed the documents obtained by Zembla say it is impossible that no high levels of mercury were detected during cutting operations, as claimed by ClassNK.

 

It is not the first time that journalists visiting Indian shipbreaking yards unannounced and undercover document a reality that starkly contrasts with the industry efforts to greenwash beaching. In 2016, DanWatch revealed dire conditions at a yard Maersk, and ClassNK, had approved. Recently, also French TV brought back a similar account of Alang.

 

"We call upon Dutch and Indian authorities to further investigate the offence that has been committed. In the Netherlands, SBM Offshore risks prison sentence and heavy fines for having intentionally and unlawfully exposed workers to extremely toxic substances. In India, authorities cannot remain inactive towards an industry that clearly does not follow national laws on occupational health and safety and environmental protection."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

 

NOTES

 

[1] The YETAGUN operated in a gas field in Myanmar for years. Mercury is a naturally occurring element present in virtually all oil and gas fields. Concentrations are especially high in the South American and East Asian region. Mercury can contaminate the structure of offshore units and ballast waters.

 

[2] Hooghly Shipbreakers shares the same ownership with Priya Blue yard, which has recently been under the spotlight for a fatal accident. According to a local whistle-blower, the cash buyer involved in the sale of the YETAGUN was Best Oasis, a wholly owned subsidiary of Priya Blue Industries. It is not the first time SBM sells its old vessels to yards located on the dirty and dangerous beaches of South Asia. The FPSOs MARLIM SUL and FALCON ended up in Alang in 2017 and 2016 respectively. The STAR OLBA was scrapped in Chattogram, Bangladesh in 2015. 

Platform News – SAVE THE DATE: “With Bare Hands” on 3 October 2019 in Brussels

Want to learn more about where our toxic waste ends up? What efforts are being made to stop it from causing harm to communities and the environment in the Global South? 

 

MO* Magazine, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform and its member organisation FIDH are organising a debate at the iconic Beursschouwburg in Brussels on 3 October. 

 

Come listen to, amongst others, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, Baskut Tuncak; Goldman Prize winner and Bangladesh Supreme Court lawyer, Syeda Rizwana Hasan; Belgian Federal Police; and Members of the European Parliament talk about ways to prevent toxic trade. 

 

The debate will be followed by the performance With Bare Hands (Live): Life in Bangladesh's Shipbreaking Yards, written by Isacco Chiaf, Sharanya Deepak, Serenella Martufi and Caroline Massie.

 

Due to the limited number of seats available, the registration is mandatory. Participants can register here. 

 

 

Background 

 

After a slew of toxic trade disasters in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the international community rallied together to reject the free trade of hazardous materials, prompting the adoption of international treaties that aim at regulating transboundary waste flows. The laws are however easy to circumvent and the developed world’s waste still finds its way to developing counties for cheap and unsafe disposal. The impact of toxic waste dumping in these counties is devastating and severely harms both human health and the environment.

 

Electronic waste (e-waste) and end-of-life ships are amongst the most devastating toxic waste streams globally. The debate, which is part of the festival Quinzaine de la Solidarité Internationale - Veertiendaagse Internationale Solidariteit 2019, will address the global impact caused by the dumping of hazardous waste, focusing particularly on these two waste flows.

 

 

Practical info

 

Event Timing: 3 October 2019, 17:30 - 20:30

 

Event Address: Beursschouwburg - Goudenzaal, Rue Auguste Orts 20-28, 1000 Brussels

 

Press Release – Two fatal accidents at Indian yards under EU scrutiny

According to local media, two workers recently died on the shipbreaking beach of Alang, India. Two separate accidents took place at well-known scrapping yards that have applied to be included in the EU list of approved ship recycling facilities.

 

On July 29, 50 years old Subash Vishwakarma lost his life at Priya Blue yard - Plot V1. He was working on a ship when a metal plate fell on his head. He was transferred to the nearest hospital in bad condition and pronounced dead at arrival. On September 3, due to an explosion during cutting operations, one worker lost his life and one got severely injured at Shree Ram yard - Plot 78/81. Fellow workers that witnessed the tragic event were unwilling to share information with journalists. The accident is under police investigation.

"We expect transparency on the causes of these fatalities, and that both the yards and owners of the vessels upon which the accidents occurred are held to account."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Last year, at least 14 workers lost their life at the Indian Alang shipbreaking yards. The exact number of fatalities is not available as local authorities do not share information — serious injuries are moreover rarely recorded, and occupational diseases, such as cancer, respiratory and skin diseases, are not documented at all.

 

Both Priya Blue and Shree Ram plots [1] were amongst the first yards to obtain so-called “Statements of Compliance with the Hong Kong Convention” from Japanese ClassNK. Recently, they have been inspected by the European Commission to assess whether they comply with the requirements set in the EU Ship Recycling Regulation. Site inspection reports highlighting a series of deficiencies related to the cutting operations in the intertidal zone, downstream waste management, medical facilities and labour laws were published earlier this year. As a consequence, the yards, despite significant pressure from industry stakeholders, were not included in the EU list of approved ship recycling facilities. New inspections, also of additional yards, are expected to take place in the coming weeks.

 

The negative environmental impacts of the scrapping activities in Alang are now under scrutiny also in India. In August, the Indian Courts directed an environmental audit of the shipbreaking activities in Alang with a specific focus on the impacts of the beaching method. The directions were given in an appeal filed by Indian environmental group Conservation Action Trust (CAT), following an initial approval to expand the Alang shipbreaking area. The approval was issued despite government reports identifying the beaching method as the most polluting method. 

 

Operating a heavy and hazardous industry on a tidal mudflat would never be allowed in the largest ship owning countries, including the EU. The many risks involved in taking large vessels apart need to be managed at sites that can safely use heavy lifting cranes, contain pollutants and dispose of hazardous materials in line with international waste laws. The beaching yards in Alang fail on all accounts.

 

Priya Blue yard in Alang, India - © Go Green Go India, 2018

 

NOTES

 

[1] Shree Ram Group owns four plots in Alang. Plots 78/81 and V7 have applied to be included in the EU list. The company also owns Plot 9. Shree Ram hit the headlines in 2016, when Danish company Maersk decided to scrap its old ships Wyoming and Georgia at Plot 78. Investigative journalists revealed severe short-comings of Maersk’s shipbreaking practices in Alang. The Danish shipping giant, however, blatantly disregarded the findings and maintained its beaching mantra.

Press Release – NGOs release new report on North Sea oil and gas recycling

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform released today a research report titled “Recycling Outlook: Decommissioning of North Sea Floating Oil & Gas Units” during a seminar held in Oslo, Norway.

 

With the oil and gas sector seeing a downturn since 2014, the Platform has documented an increasing number of offshore units sold for scrap. While the recycling of fixed installations occurs under strict regulations, there are serious concerns regarding the recycling of floating structures, which classify as vessels. Around 200 floating structures have been identified as scrapped globally since 2015 – an estimated 40% of these assets ended up on South Asian beaches, where they were broken up under conditions that cause irreparable damage to the coastal environment and put workers’ lives and health at risk.

 

Numerous  floating platforms and oil and gas structures can be found in the North Sea, where the global oversupply in the rig-market is pushing the oldest assets to be scrapped. There are currently 59 floating mobile drilling rigs in the North Sea, 18 of which were built before 2001. Whilst some of the older units might be converted/upgraded, it is estimated that most of them will be scrapped in the coming years. So far, the only structure which operated in the North Sea and has been traced to a South Asian beaching yard is the FPSO North Sea Producer. There is a real risk, however, that we will see more of these cases coming up in the near future with more decommissioning projects in the North Sea.

 

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform advocates for the use of green recycling capacity already existing in the region. Indeed, North Sea recycling yards have years of experience decommissioning fixed oil and gas structures. There are several dry docks and contained slipway facilities where the dismantling of  floating structures can take place safely and with due regard for labour and environmental concerns. Ehancing the recycling of offshore structures and ships in Europe would furthermore bring opportunities for the many workers that were laid off  after the recession in the oil and gas sector in 2014.

 

The report was published with the support of Norwegian pension fund KLP. KLP promotes, as an essential part of its responsibility, practices of corporate responsibility and responsible investment. As a large investor in Norwegian companies, and companies based outside of Norway operating in the North Sea, it strives to ensure the responsible recycling of ships and offshore assets, aiming at contributing to a shift towards better practices in the sector.

Photos from KLP's seminar "Responsible disposal of ships and rigs" - © Cato Gustavson/KLP

Press Release – Accident on board Greek ship kills two and injures thirteen

Two deaths and thirteen severe injuries. This is the toll of victims following yet another accident at the shipbreaking beach of Chattogram, Bangladesh. The accident occurred in the afternoon of Saturday 31 August at Ziri Subedar shipbreaking yard. 

 

During scrapping operations on the ship CSL VIRGINIA (IMO 9289568) a heavy cable collapsed, hitting several workers at once. Aminul Islam, 35 years old, and Tushar Chakma, 27 years old, lost their lives. Thirteen workers [1] suffered severe injuries and were taken to Chattogram Medical College Hospital for treatment. Following the accident, local authorities ordered the temporary closure of the yard. Investigations are ongoing. 

 

 

So far this year, fifteen shipbreaking workers have lost their lives in Chattogram. It is not the first time Ziri’s failure to ensure safe working conditions causes death. [2] 

"It's sad that our regulatory authorities had to wait for deaths of seven workers and grievous injuries of fifteen in a row of seven incidences in this yard alone since 2011. Had they acted earlier, we could have saved these invaluable lives. The negligent authorities should also be punished as their failures and seeming cohesion have led to these tragic events. I also wonder how long it will take for the West to act on these deaths and stop sending vessels to the unsafe yards of Bangladesh."
Syeda Rizwana Hasan - Chief Executive - Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)

The container ship CSL VIRGINIA was beached in Bangladesh in February 2019. According to shipping media, it was owned and managed by Andreas Hadjiyiannis’ Greek company Cyprus Sea Lines. The vessel was hit by a Tunisian ferry when it was anchored off Corsica in October 2018. The collision breached the CSL VIRGINIA’s fuel tanks causing a significant oil spill that affected especially the French Mediterranean coast and required a vast clean-up operation. Before setting sail for the Chattogram beach, the vessel was allowed to leave French territorial waters, escorted by the French coast guard, upon claims that it would be repaired in Constanța, Romania. Instead, it spent a few weeks in a Turkish shipyard - there it was renamed VIRGIN STAR and changed registry from the flag of Cyprus to the flag of Liberia. It passed the Suez Canal on 25 December 2018, just days before the entry-into-force of the EU Ship Recycling Regulation.

 

An image of the VIRGIN STAR (first ship from the left) after its arrival in Chattogram - © NGO Shipbreaking Platform

 

NOTES

 

[1] Nasir Uddin (30 years old), Md Sharif (30 years old), Ramdoyal (40 years old), Bimol (25 years old), Dononjoy Tripura (25 years old), Suron Tripura (22 years old), Anik Tripura (20 years old), Srabon (23 years old), Sonjoy (25 years old), Rahi Tripura (22 years old), Jagdish (25 years old), Roton (30 years old), Faruque (35 years old). 

 

[2] On 25 July 2013, Muhammed Selim was severely injured when a heavy iron piece hit and broke his back while working at the yard. The Platform informed the concerned authorities and arranged a meeting between Selim’s wife, accompanied by some of the victim’s fellow workers, and the yard’s management. However, Ziri’s owner did not assist Selim in receiving the necessary treatment for his serious injuries. Selim was brought to his native home in Noakhali, in the Chattogram district, and on 10 November 2014, he died from the injuries he suffered. It was only once the Platform informed Ziri that it would take the matter to the labour court that the yard agreed to pay compensation. Selim’s wife finally received 100.000 Taka (approx. 1000 EUR) on 15 March 2015.