The Toxic Tide

2023 Shipbreaking Records

Just as the goods they transport, ships too become waste when they reach the end of their operational lives. Yet only a fraction is handled in a safe and clean manner. The vast majority of the world's end-of-life fleet, full of toxic substances, is simply broken down - by hand - on three beaches in South Asia. There, unscrupulous shipping companies exploit minimal enforcement of environmental and safety rules to maximise profits.

The human costs and the environmental impacts of taking toxic ships apart on the South Asian beaches are devastating. Accidents kill or maim numerous workers each year. Many more workers suffer from occupational diseases, including cancer. Toxic spills and pollution cause irreparable damage to coastal ecosystems and the local communities depending on them.

Shipbreaking Records

2023

According to data released by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, 446 ocean-going commercial vessels were sold to the scrap yards in 2023. Of these, 325 large tankers, bulkers, offshore platforms, cargo- and passenger-ships  were broken down on the beaches of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, amounting to more than 85% of the gross tonnage dismantled globally.

Shipbreaking Records

Historical

Human

Costs

On the South Asian beaches, unskilled migrant workers, including children, are deployed by the thousands to break down the vessels manually. Without protective gear – in baseball caps and flip flops, or boots if they’re lucky – young men cut wires, pipes and blast through ship hulls with blowtorches. Gas explosions, the crashing down of massive steel parts and falls from height cause the death of numerous workers each year.

447

Number of deaths in the South Asian shipbreaking yards since 2009

Shipbreaking is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world according to the International Labour Organisation.

2023 Fatalities

Name

Age

Cause of death

Long-term Health Impacts

The risk of developing a fatal occupational disease is high as workers lack proper respiratory equipment to protect them against the many toxic fumes and materials released during the cutting and cleaning operations. In most cases, hazardous substances are not even identified and therefore harm workers unknowingly. Some cancers, including asbestos-related mesothelioma, will only develop 15 to 20 years after exposure, and cause many more casualties among former shipbreaking workers.

In addition to taking a huge toll on the health and lives of workers, shipbreaking is a highly polluting industry. In South Asia, ships are grounded before they are pulled and broken apart on tidal mudflats. On these once pristine beaches, coastal ecosystems and the local communities depending on them are devastated by toxic spills and other types of pollution caused by the breaking operations. As long as shipbreaking is done by way of beaching, the environment will suffer.

Environmental

Costs

The shipbreaking beaches in South Asia are toxic hotspots. Reckless breaking operations take place on tidal mudflats where it is impossible to contain pollutants. Oil spills, sludge and heavy metal contaminated debris cause irreparable damage to the coastal environment as well as the local communities that depend upon them.

Coastal Degradation

In Bangladesh, thousands of protected mangrove trees have been cut to make way for ships. 14.000 mangroves, planted with support from the United Nations, were illegally cut in 2009 in Sitakund to make space for additional shipbreaking yards. According to an estimate by Bangladeshi NGO YPSA, in the past few years at least 60.000 mangrove trees have been cut along the coast near the city of Chattogram to make way for more ships. The cutting of mangroves has extremely negative consequences as they are essential for this fragile ecosystem and are the last barrier against the devastating effects of typhoons and floods.

Mangrove trees cut down

60.000

Irresponsible

Business Practices

Unscrupulous shipping companies – most of them based in Europe, the US and East Asia – exploit minimal enforcement of environmental and safety rules on the South Asian beaches to maximise profits. They sell their vessel to scrap dealers, better known as cash buyers, who bring the vessels to their final destination. The cash buyers pay the highest price for end-of-life vessels and are inherently linked to the beaching yards. Cash buyers change the flags of the ships to black-listed flags of convenience and re-register the vessels under new names and anonymous post box companies. These practices render it very difficult for authorities to trace and hold cash buyers - and the ship owners that sell to these scrap dealers - accountable for illicit practices.

Top Dumpers

Countries

Ship owners from Asia and Europe top the list of dumpers that sell vessels for dirty and dangerous breaking to the beaches of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Top Dumpers

Companies

No shipping company can claim to be unaware of the dire conditions at the shipbreaking beaches, still they massively continue to sell their vessels to the worst yards in the world to get the highest price for their ships. Based on number of ships beached, fatalities and breaches of existing waste legislation, these shipping companies are the 2023 top dumpers.

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC)
Sinokor
Transworld Group
Evergreen
Moller AP – Maersk
Green Reefers
Harinsuit Transport

Switzerland
South Korea
United Arab Emirates
Taiwan
Denmark
Norway
Thailand

Flags of Convenience

2023

There is a huge discrepancy between the states in which ship owners are based and the flag states that exercise regulatory control over the world fleet. At end-of-life, typical last-voyage ship registries are particularly popular with cash buyers. These flags are known for their poor implementation of international maritime law and are black-listed by most port states.

Grey- and black-listed flags

These flags are grey- and black-listed due to their poor implementation of international maritime legislation.

Breaches of Environmental Laws

It is extremely easy for ship owners to circumvent or breach with impunity existing laws that aim at protecting vulnerable communities and the environment from the dumping of toxic waste.

Two ships de-registered from a European flag registry prior the last voyage to the breaking yards in order to circumvent the EU Ship Recycling Regulation, which demands the recycling of EU-flagged vessels only in approved facilities in Europe, Turkey and US.

Furthermore, at least eight vessels were sold to beaching yards in breach of the EU Waste Shipment Regulation, which bans all exports of hazardous waste to non-OECD countries. Ship owners do not declare ships as destined for recycling. Instead, they often provide authorities of the exporting countries with false claims of further operational use or repair work in order to avoid being held accountable.

The number of vessels that European shipowners sold to the South Asian beaches is however much higher. Only if Europe, and other parts of the world, adopt a return scheme for all ships trading in their waters will end-of-life vessels effectively be diverted to safe and clean recycling yards.

Spain

Ship Name

GREEN KARMOY

#IMO

8804531

Owner

Green Reefers (Norway)

Destination

India

Beaching Date

2023-04-29

Ship Name

ZEFYROS REEFER

#IMO

8916748

Owner

Lavinia Corp (Greece)

Destination

India

Beaching Date

2023-09-03

Ship Name

QUALITY

#IMO

6703343

Owner

Mary Marine Ltd (Seychelles)

Destination

India

Beaching Date

2023-11-18

Ship Name

MSC FLORIANA

#IMO

8521397

Owner

MSC (Switzerland)

Destination

India

Beaching Date

2023-02-08

Portugal

Ship Name

MSC NORA II

#IMO

9163207

Owner

Wakisaka Kaiun Co Ltd (Japan)

Destination

India

Beaching Date

2023-04-20

Greece

Ship Name

UNI-ASPIRE

#IMO

9130573

Owner

Evergreen (Taiwan)

Destination

India

Beaching Date

2023-10-08

Cyprus

Ship Name

MAERSK ABERDEEN

#IMO

9175793

Owner

Moller AP - Maersk (Denmark)

Destination

India

Beaching Date

2023-02-03

Italy

Ship Name

LARA

#IMO

9001772

Owner

Seapeak Maritime Operating LLC (Bermuda)

Destination

India

Beaching Date

2023-07-07

Safe and clean ship recycling is possible

Due diligence when choosing business partners is essential. Corporations have an obligation to ensure that their business practices do not cause harm to people and the environment. Many recycling yards have already invested in the safety and environmental standard of their operations. The EU maintains a list of approved ship recycling facilities - no beaching yard is on that list.