Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Session 2003-04
11 November 2004 Environment Committee calls for urgent action to eradicate irresponsible ship dismantling

11 November 2004 Environment Committee calls for urgent action to eradicate irresponsible ship dismantling

Lack of action by the Government is leading to Britain's ageing ships being dismantled under "wholly inadequate" conditions on beaches in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, according to a report released today by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. Standards of health, safety and environmental protection at ship breaking yards in developing countries are, by the standards of developed countries, unacceptable, particularly given that defunct ships often contain hazardous materials such as asbestos, PCBs and waste oils.

The Committee considers that the need to eradicate irresponsible ship dismantling is urgent, all the more so because all remaining single-hulled tankers must be dismantled before 2015, many before 2010 and the oldest by the end of 2005. The Committee requests that the Government set out how it will use its forthcoming presidency of the European Union and chairmanship of the G8 to encourage rapid international action to ensure these tankers are dismantled in a responsible way.

The Committee believes that it is unacceptable that OECD-based companies, who are also members of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), should continue to permit their vessels to be dismantled in this way. However, it acknowledges that the lack of suitable dismantling facilities in developed countries is a significant barrier to responsible ship dismantling: few OECD countries have sites which have both the capacity to dismantle large ships and the licence to do so.

The Committee recommends that the Government should work to ensure that the IMO gives priority to producing an internationally binding agreement which sets out how ships should be dismantled. Such an approach must avoid the difficulties associated with the current tortuous arguments which try to determine when a ship becomes waste. The Government should be in a strong position to pursue the production of such an agreement, as a member of the IMO and as upcoming president of the G8 and the EU.

 The Committee argues that the UK has the potential to establish an industry in ship dismantling which can be done safely and offer economic benefits to the community. As a starting point, it would welcome the development of a thriving ship dismantling industry in the UK, which dismantled all defunct state-owned vessels to the highest standards of health, safety and environmental protection.

The Committee's inquiry was initiated as a result of events in Hartlepool last year, where Able UK Ltd had intended to dismantle and recycle redundant ships from the US auxiliary fleet-the so-called 'ghost ships'. Evidence the Committee heard about Able UK's proposal at that time suggested that a more detailed examination of the wider issues of ship dismantling was called for.

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NOTES FOR EDITORS

The report follows an inquiry announced on 25 March 2004 and conducted in June and July 2004.

The Committee received written evidence from a number of interested parties. The Committee took oral evidence from: the Chamber of Shipping; Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace; Able UK Ltd; the Environment Agency, and Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Environment and Agri-Environment, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Committee also discussed the matter informally with European Commission officials during a Committee visit to Brussels in July 2004.

The full report will be available on our website from around 3.30 pm on 11 November. Website: http://www.parliament.uk/efracom