A brief overview of ship recycling legislation

(c) Amit Dave


Ship recycling is not a Wild West territory — at least, in principle, the economic activity is regulated by a number of international treaties and rules. A brief overview.

Basel Convention, 1992 – in force

- Basel Convention enters into force to prevent industrialised countries from dumping their hazardous waste in third world countries

- A ship becomes waste when there is intent to dispose it (and, as the law says, “at the same time it may be defined as a ship under other international rules”, so that maritime law is abided on the last voyage of the “moving” waste)

- Ratified by 186 countries and the EU


Basel Ban Amendment, 1995 – not in force

- The rules are sharpened to introduce a complete prohibition on the export of hazardous waste from developed countries – predominantly OECD countries – to developing countries

- Not in force due to insufficient number of ratifications


Waste Shipment Regulation (WSR), 2006 – in force

- European regulation

- The Basel Convention and Basel Ban Amendment translated into European law: a full prohibition of the export of hazardous waste from EU countries to non-OECD countries

- The country the ship physically departs from is considered to be the exporting state, regardless of the ship’s flag

- Basel Ban Amendment is de facto in force in EU countries

- Ship owners constantly circumvent this regulation. They don’t disclose their intention to dismantle a ship when it sets off, or the ship has been outside EU waters for an extended time before leaving for a recycling yard. Prosecution is almost non-existent


Hong Kong Convention (HKC), 2009, not in force

- International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Convention

- Only applies to ships above 500 GT. Inland vessels, war ships, naval ships and other ships exclusively used by governments in a non-commercial way don’t fall under the scope of the convention

- Ships under the flag of a party to the HKC can only be dismantled in certified recycling facilities compliant with the HKC criteria

- Critics don’t consider the criteria for recycling yards to be strict enough because the HKC allows beaching and doesn’t provide sufficient safeguards to limit damage to the environment and workers’ health and safety

- Only six countries have ratified the convention, so it’s not yet in force

- The convention enters into force when three conditions are met:

1. At least 15 countries have ratified the convention

2. The combined merchant fleets of those states constitute no less than 40% of the gross tonnage of the world’s merchant shipping

3. The combined maximum annual ship recycling volume of those states during the preceding 10 years constitutes no less than 3% of the gross tonnage of the combined merchant shipping of the same states

- Once in force, the convention can be circumvented by registering a ship in a country that is not party to the convention


Ship Recycling Regulation (SRR), 2013, in force since 1 January 2019

- European regulation applying to all EU-flagged ships that aren’t vessels below 500 GT, inland vessels, war ships, naval vessels or other ships that are only used by governments for non-commercial purposes

- EU-flagged ships can only go for dismantling to EU-listed recycling yards

- So far only European recycling facilities are featured on the list

- Recycling facilities in EU countries are automatically included in the list when their respective governments propose­. They comply with national environmental requirements, which are themselves in line with European regulations

- Non-EU facilities send an application file with the required documents and information on their facilities to the European Commission. The European Commission makes a desk assessment of the facility and provides the facility with recommendations for improvement, if necessary. Once the facility demonstrates having completed the required improvements, the Commission sends over an expert for inspection. If the recycling facility effectively complies with European requirements, it’s presented to the member states for inclusion in the European list

- The regulation can be circumvented by registering the ship under a non-EU flag

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