Faced with a petition from ToxicsWatch Alliance, an environmental organization in India, the Supreme Court ruled last week that end-of-life ships containing hazardous materials, such as asbestos or PCBs, must follow the Basel Convention rules on global movements of hazardous wastes.
This ruling means that India can no longer accept ships from Europe or the United States. It also means that the Indian government must first be notified and pre-approve the disposal of all hazardous materials contained on-board all ships slated for scrapping prior to vessel arrival in India. Previous to this decision India largely ignored its legal obligations as a signatory to the Basel treaty with respect to ships.
“India for a long time has been violating international law with respect to its uncontrolled imports of toxic ships for scrapping on its beaches. It will no longer be able to do so,” said Basel Action Network director Jim Puckett. “Hundreds of poor and desperate laborers have been killed or exposed to hazardous chemicals as a result of the disastrous shipbreaking practices on Indian beaches.”
The beaching operations found in South Asia are well-known for environmental and human rights violations, where workers are routinely injured, crippled and killed from explosions and occupational exposure to hazardous substances. Just this weekend a shipbreaking worker fell to his death from a ship beached in Bangladesh, the fifth such deadly accident in Bangladesh this year. In 2011 alone 28 workers died at Alang shipbreaking yards. The inquiries in such deaths are never made public.
India’s Supreme Court order affirms the United Nations Basel Convention, an international law enacted in 1989 to prevent the dumping of hazardous waste on developing countries. Under such law, ships cannot be imported to a Party state, such as India, from a non-Party state, such as the United States.
However positive the Indian Supreme Court’s directives, the court decided that the EXXON VALDEZ, an infamous ship whose arrival in Indian waters prompted the environmentalists to act, will be the last ship to arrive in India without the Basel rules being applied. It is unclear why the court exempted the EXXON VALDEZ from its own orders. While Indian authorities claimed their inspection did not reveal any hazardous materials on-board the vessel as cargo, they could not determine what hazardous waste was contained in the ship’s structure, which most likely include PCBs, asbestos, and residual fuels amongst many others.
Jim Puckett added, “Hopefully this ruling will be the beginning of the end of the dark ages of ship recycling.”