Today, the world’s shipping fleet has an average age of less than 10 years.
Therefore, there is a great need to dismantle old ships as ship owners try to avoid the high maintenance cost associated with these ships. Luckily, ships at the end of their working lives have value, since large quantities of steel and other parts can be recycled and put into diverse uses. Over the years, governments and organizations across the world have taken steps to make sure that the process of ship recycling is done in an environmentally-sound manner.
Manual dismantling of ships is a common method of recycling ships in which the ship is broken down into smaller parts at the beach.
Although the method is less friendly to the environment, it is commonly used in Pakistan, India, China, Turkey and Bangladesh, where most of the world’s ships are recycled. For example, in 2014, a total of 641 vessels were manually dismantled. As the technology advances and marine regulations gain momentum, safer and greener recycling methods have emerged. The level of sophistication in these methods is higher and happens in quay-side yards. The yards use dry or floating docks and have heavy lifting materials. The steel scrap resulting from the process is liquefied and utilized as a raw material when making new ships. The glass, wooden furniture, and other parts are put into diverse applications.
The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling Ships is one of the major regulations across the world developed to regulate the process of ship recycling.
Adopted in 2009 at a diplomatic conference that took place in Hong Kong, China, the birth of this convention was facilitated by a number of parties, including members of the International Marine Organization (IMO), International Labor Organization, and non-governmental organizations. It is through this Convention that working and environmental condition concerns are addressed in major ship recycling facilities in the world. It recognizes that ships subjected to scrapping might have environmentally harmful substances such as ozone-depleting substances, heavy metals, asbestos, hydrocarbons, and others. Areas covered by the Convention include how ships are designed, constructed, operated, and prepared for recycling. Ships to be subjected to recycling must be accompanied by an inventory of hazardous materials. Additionally, ship recycling yards must have a Ship Recycling Plan.
The Basel Convention has also played a role in discouraging the recycling of ships through methods that harm the environment.
Since 1992, it has been instrumental in ensuring that hazardous wastes from ship recycling activities are not transferred from one nation to another, especially from developed to less-developed nations. Furthermore, specific regions and countries have established their own ship recycling laws and regulations. For example, the UK Ship Recycling strategy of February 2007 regulates safe recycling of shipping vessels. In France, this is regulated by the Parliamentary Report on Dismantling of Ships of January 2007, among other strategies. The Waste Management Act in Germany is important in the regulation of ship recycling. In the United States, the U.S. Maritime Administration has allowed the country’s six ship recycling facilities to operate within the regulations developed to ensure that the recycling process does not harm the environment.