The Netherlands is among the top five European Union countries when it comes to the unregulated dumping of old ships to be scrapped on beaches in South East Asia, say campaigners.
Twelve old ships whose last owners were Dutch companies ended up in India in 2011, according to the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a coalition of international human rights and environmental organisations.
The group campaigns for the sustainable scrapping of end-of-life ships. It has released a list of the ‘top ten’ EU member states, where companies are guilty of selling old ships to be gutted on the beaches of southeast Asia.
When a ship is no longer of use as a sea-going vessel, it is sold for scrap, which includes the steel making up much of its structure. Each year around 650 old ships are scrapped, many of them on the beaches of Alang, Sachana and Mumbai (India), Gadani (Pakistan) and Chittagong (Bangladesh).
The procedure entails a slow and careful removal of all material that may still be used, such as steel. However, campaigners say that labourers often work in hazardous situations, caused by unsafe working conditions and toxic waste that these old ships contain.
The NGO Shipbreaking Platform says that while EU regulations prohibit the sale and export of hazardous materials to developing countries, several EU member states (including The Netherlands) still do so.
"European shipping companies thus avoid the costs of proper disposal by selling their ships to South Asian breaking yards known for the lack of environmental and labour laws, exposing some of the poorest communities to extremely dangerous working conditions," the Shipbreaking Platform says on its website.
According to the Platform, thousands of poor migrant workers are exposed to these circumstances on Indian or Bangladeshi beaches. In Bangladesh, 20 percent of the workforce is under 15. The group says on its webiste that up to 1.3 million tonnes of toxics reach South Asian shores from the EU alone each year, including asbestos, lead, oil and PCBs.
"The toxics sicken the workers and ravage the ecosystems," says the Platform.
How to improve?
It is pushing for the Netherlands and the European Commission to improve compliance with the international regulations. Shipbreaking Platform says alternatives do exist and that the sustainable scrapping of ships takes place in many parts of the world, for instance in China.