19th November 2019
The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a NGO partner of Human Rights at Sea, themselves in collaboration with the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, has achieved a successful legal judgement in relation to vessel end-of-life shipbreaking by former ship owners which resulted in environmental and labour rights abuses.
NGO Shipbreaking, Belgium. [Reproduced with permission]. On 14 November, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh declared the import, beaching and breaking of the infamous FPSO North Sea Producer illegal. The judgment was issued in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by NGO Shipbreaking Platform member organisation Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA). The Court further noted with dismay the incessant violations of national and international laws by the shipbreaking industry, and passed several directions upon the government to regulate the sector in line with earlier rulings.
Already in August 2017, the Bangladesh Court had issued an injunction on the ongoing breaking of the North Sea Producer based on the detection of radiation levels higher than permitted. It has now directed national agencies to monitor the breaking of what is left of the FPSO without any involvement of Janata Steel, the yard that had beached the vessel in 2016. The Department of Environment has also been directed to claim compensation from the yard for having violated national environmental rules.
“The judgment is important in that it has expressly called the import, beaching and breaking permits illegal, and for the first time a breaker has been put off the breaking operation and the government has been given the steering. It is even more important because it has required the government to regulate the dubious roles of the cash buyers and restrict import from grey- and black listed flag registries. This will surely make it difficult for the unscrupulous players to treat Bangladesh as a dumping ground,” states Rizwana Hasan, Supreme Court lawyer and director of BELA.
Noting the plethora of illegalities and the lack of transparency in the sector, the Court directed authorities to i) subject cash buyers and agents to stricter scrutiny, including a detailed recording of their particulars, and to hold them accountable to the strictest sanctions; ii) regulate the import of vessels registered under “last voyage” grey- or black-listed flags which are particularly popular with cash buyers, including Comoros, Palau and St. Kits and Nevis, and; iii) ensure that no vessel is imported without proper verifiable pre-cleaning certificates and declarations of in-built hazardous wastes, and/or by yards that do not fully comply with the requirements for obtaining an Environmental Clearance.
Whilst the recent ruling on the illegal import of the North Sea Producer stresses the systemic illegalities of the entire shipbreaking sector, and also highlights the deficiencies of local agencies responsible for the enforcement of environmental and labour laws, the illegal export of the vessel from the UK is still being investigated by UK environmental agency DEFRA. After winning the case on the illegal import and beaching of the North Sea Producer, owned by Danish A.P. Moeller Maersk and Brazilian Odebrecht, NGOs now urge the UK to hold the ship owners and cash buyer GMS accountable for the illegal export of the toxic FPSO. As previously reported, the North Sea Producer was allowed to leave the UK in 2016 based on claims that it would be further operationally used.
“Providing fraudulent documentation in order to circumvent existing waste export bans is a criminal offence in Europe and internationally. Maersk and Odebrecht were well acquainted with cash buyer GMS’ notorious trafficking of waste ships. They were also well aware of the illegality of selling the vessel for scrapping in South Asia. This is not a case of poor human rights due diligence, but one where companies collude to earn big bucks on the back of people and the environment. We demand that authorities in the UK follow suit and establish the responsibility of all parties involved”, says Ingvild Jenssen, NGO Shipbreaking Platform’s Director and Founder.