Press Release – Prosecutor launches investigation after Icelandic journalists shed light on illegal export of toxic ships to India

Cash buyer GMS once again under the spotlight

 

Icelandic program Kveikur released yesterday an investigation on the murky sale of two ships owned by Icelandic company Eimskip. In a documentary broadcasted by radio and television Ríkisútvarpið (RÚV), Kveikur uncovers the illegal export of the container ships GODAFOSS and LAXFOSS to the Indian beach of Alang for dirty and dangerous scrapping. The Icelandic authorities have confirmed that the case has been brought to the public prosecutor for further investigation.

 

In an interview with RÚV, and in response to Kveikur’s documentary, Iceland’s Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson said: “First, I am shocked over what I saw. You feel sad and, at the same time, angry that a company in the West would exploit vulnerable people that have no choice but to work under such horrible conditions. Workers are at constant risk of accidents and even losing their life, and environmental issues are given zero attention. The owners of these companies must respond to whether this is, in their view, morally acceptable, and if this is in line with the environmental and social responsibility policy that they set for themselves. That is the question that I, and I believe many others, were left with.”

 

At the end of 2019, Eimskip sold, as part of its fleet renewal, the GODAFOSS and LAXFOSS, while simultaneously agreeing with the buyer to charter the ships back until the company’s new-buildings were delivered. What may have seemed like a sale for further operational use was actually a scrap deal – Eimskip’s counterpart to the sale was none other than GMS, one of the most well-known cash buyers of end-of-life ships. GMS is behind nearly half of the total tonnage that has been beached in the Indian subcontinent so far in 2020. The company has also been linked by media and civil society to several toxic trade scandals, at least two of which are currently being criminally investigated by enforcement authorities in the UK. [1]

 

Eimskip denies any involvement in the decision to sell the ships for recycling and claims having been in the dark about their final destination.

"It is hard to believe Eimskip when they claim that they were unaware of the final destination of the vessels. Companies have a duty of care and responsibility to ensure that their operations follow environmental law, also within their supply-chain. Due diligence when selecting business partners is part and parcel of that responsibility."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

The export of the two container vessels to South Asia was in clear breach of European waste laws, which prohibit the trade of hazardous waste, including end-of-life ships, from OECD countries to non-OECD countries. Both the GODAFOSS and LAXFOSS were in European waters when the decision to sell for scrap was taken. Before reaching the Indian beach of Alang, via Suez, they briefly stopped in Rotterdam and Athens respectively. At the time of the export of the ships, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform formally requested Icelandic, Dutch and Greek authorities to hold all the parties involved in the sale accountable for breaching EU waste legislation. 

 

Researchers and journalists that have recently visited the Indian shipbreaking yards, often unannounced and undercover, have documented a reality that starkly contrasts with the industry efforts to greenwash beaching. The BBC exposed the case, which sees again the involvement of cash buyer GMS, of five oil and gas units owned by Diamond Offshore. Two of the units ended up being broken in Alang under dire conditions before the remaining three were arrested in Scotland, as it was suspected that the buyers sought to illegally export them to South Asia. Dutch programme ZEMBLA brought back similar accounts of horrifying practices in Alang, revealing how workers unknowingly were exposed to highly toxic mercury fumes when torching apart an FSO owned by offshore company SBM. In 2019 alone, at least fourteen vessels were sold to beaching yards in breach of the EU Waste Shipment Regulation. The Icelandic case adds itself to several ongoing criminal investigations.

 

 

NOTE

 

[1] See North Sea Producer case and Diamond Offshore case. 

 

Press Release – NGOs call EU’s intent to export toxic ships to developing countries illegal and contrary to aims of Green Deal

The Basel Action Network (BAN), the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Greenpeace, and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, leading organisations active in the pursuit of preventing the environmental injustice caused by the dumping of hazardous waste, warn that the European Union's legislation allowing the export of toxic ships to developing countries violates Member States’ obligations under the Basel Convention and is in contradiction with the EU's new strategic economic and environmental policy initiatives.

 

In a new report entitled Contradiction in Terms: European Union must align its ship exports with International Law and Green Deal Policies, the NGOs call upon the EU to take urgent action to reform both the Waste Shipment Regulation and the Ship Recycling Regulation to ensure they are legally consistent with the international Basel Convention. They note with concern that proposals have been made for the EU to enter into a special bilateral agreement with certain shipbreaking states (e.g. India) as a supposed legitimate means to circumvent the Basel Convention’s Ban Amendment, which entered into global force last December [1]. Bolstered by a new analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) [2], the report explains why that is not acceptable both from a legal standpoint and as a matter of policy. 

"Put simply, the EU procedure of filling out paperwork and permitting toxic ships to go to the beaches of South Asia for the purposes of their disposal/recycling can never be an equivalent level of control and protection as a rule that bans such export. Now that the Ban Amendment is in force, it is binding international law. Shipbreaking yards in developing countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh can therefore not be placed on the EU’s list of approved ship recycling destinations. "
Jim Puckett - Executive Director - Basel Action Network (BAN)

In light of the new European Green Deal - and at a time when 1) EU waste law is being recast to ‘facilitate preparing for re-use and recycling of waste in the EU’ and ‘restrict exports of waste that have harmful environmental and health impacts in third countries; 2) the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan calls for ensuring that the EU does not export its waste challenges to third countries; and 3) the recently published Foresight 2020 report identifies the need for greater resilience in providing more green jobs in the EU - it seems especially incoherent for the EU to rely on faulty legal argumentation that would defeat the intent and purpose of the Ban Amendment while undermining the EU's strategic economic and environmental policy initiatives. 

"Such action will send a signal to the rest of the world that the EU is not serious about a responsible circular economy and international law. By allowing the breaking of European vessels in the Global South, Europe is not only exporting hazardous waste and threatening people’s health in developing countries, but also contradicting its own ambition to boost the domestic supply of secondary raw materials – as set out in its circular economy action plan. EU leaders must focus on reprocessing, reusing and recycling valuable materials, particularly steel, within Europe."
Stéphane Arditi - Circular Economy Policy Manager - European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

The NGOs call on the EU to seize the opportunity to boost safe and clean ship recycling in Europe, as well as to promote the design and building of toxic-free vessels and to push for ‘zero-emissions steel’ initiatives [3]. Such actions would enable Europe to offer proper recovery solutions for ships from all over the world.

"We fear that the EU is just fine with human rights, environmental treaties and a ‘green deal’ until it impacts the bottom line of powerful industrial interests. Instead of inventing exceptions to international law, we expect the EU to support its recycling sector and safeguard the environmental justice principles that it championed when supporting the Basel Ban Amendment - and now has put at the heart of its new Green Deal."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

NOTES

 

[1] The Ban Amendment to the Basel Convention, championed early on by the EU and now enshrined in international waste law, bans hazardous wastes of all kinds from being exported from developed to developing countries. The Basel Convention has already ruled that operational ships can be considered as hazardous wastes due to the many toxics embedded within their structure.  Yet, current EU law allows EU flagged vessels to be exported to any destination on an EU approved ship recycling facility list, regardless of whether it is a developing country or not.  

 

[2] The CIEL analysis explains that the Basel Convention does not allow reservations or exceptions, and only allows special separate agreements if they provide an "equivalent level of control."

 

[3] See Material Economics’ report Industrial Transformation 2050.