IMO ship recycling convention could fail to ensure sustainable recycling, claim NGOs

Environmental groups have claimed that the recently ratified Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, which will enter into force in June 2025, could fail to ensure sustainable ship recycling.

The groups said that the requirements of the Hong Kong convention had fallen short of ensuring ethical, safe and environmentally sound ship recycling and that they risked undermining existing laws.

Ingvild Jenssen – Executive Director and Founder – NGO Shipbreaking Platform, said that “this international convention rubberstamps shipbreaking on tidal mudflats and ignores labour rights and international rules for hazardous waste management. It will only serve the interests of shipping companies to avoid paying the true cost of sustainable and ethical recycling and undercut efforts to level the playing field for responsible ship recyclers to compete. As it stands, the Hong Kong Convention undermines the overall credibility of not only its own stated objectives, but also that of the IMO”.

The NGO said that the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights, the Centre for International Environmental Law and the European Parliament all highlighted fatal weaknesses of the Hong Kong Convention’s standards and enforcement mechanisms. It noted further that a majority of the 191 countries that are party to the UNEP Basel Convention, which controls the global trade of hazardous wastes, including end-of-life ships, and bans the export of toxic wastes from OECD to non-OECD countries, found that the Hong Kong Convention failed to provide an equivalent level of control to the Basel Convention, because it did not prevent the dumping of toxic ships in developing countries

Rizwana Hasan, director of The Bangladesh Environmental Law Association (BELA) said that “the entry-into-force of the flawed Hong Kong Convention is not a time for celebration, but it will allow for the reopening of the text. We will be calling for changes so that it meets expectations of environmental justice, labour rights and circular economy objectives, and calling on the European Union and responsible ship owners to ensure that the shipping sector does not get away with green-washing the current deplorable practices that would never be allowed in their home countries”.

There have been concerns expressed within the legal profession that the Hong Kong Convention’s ratification had created something of a mish-mash of regulation, with the Hong Kong Convention falling short of the Basel Convention and the more recent EU Ship Recycling Regulation.

The NGOs have said that the Hong Kong Convention sets no requirements, beyond compliance with national rules for the management of hazardous wastes downstream. It endorses beaching and, the NGOs claim, lacks provisions to protect workers engaged in shipbreaking operations.

Sigurd Enge – Senior Advisor – Bellona Foundation said that “this is not a proud moment for IMO. It has been a 14-year wait for a convention that does not solve the problems it was supposed to address. The Hong Kong Convention is already adopted by the sub-standard yards on the beaches in India and Bangladesh, so in practice, there will be no change, just ‘bad business as usual’. Eyes are now on the Basel Convention and the EU’s Ship Recycling Regulation. Both are important blueprints for the necessary reform of the IMO’s Hong Kong Convention,”.