Child ShipbreakersJust days after an explosion killed 6 shipbreakers in Alang India, the European Commission is considering a proposal to legalize the export of toxic, end-of-life ships to developing countries, a practice that has been forbidden in Europe since January of 1997. The proposal would exempt most ships from the the Basel Convention which bans hazardous waste exports to the world’s poorest countries.

“The proposal is both profoundly immoral and illegal,” said Roberto Ferrigno of NGO Shipbreaking, an environmental watchdog group which focuses on shipbreaking practices. “and yet it does not appear that the Commission understands the gravity of this action. This proposal will render European governments powerless in preventing exports of asbestos and PCB laden ships.”

The European Environment Council will debate the Commission’s proposal on ship recycling on the 25th of October. The Commission has justified their proposal by claiming that the EU and developed countries lack adequate ship recycling capacity and that they are powerless to prevent ships from simply reflagging their ships to circumvent national laws.

The Basil Convention allows few exceptions or reservations to its rules so the EU proposal has some experts questioning the legality of the proposal. “The Commission Proposal constitutes a unilateral departure from the provisions of the Basel Convention that is not allowed by the Convention,” said Prof. Dr. Ludwig Kraemer, a European community legal expert. “The adoption of the proposal by the European Parliament and the Council would constitute a breach of the EU obligations under the Basel Convention and would therefore be illegal.”

Each year, approximately 800 ocean ships reach the end of their services and are broken down to recover primarily steel and, according to NGO Shipbreaking, about 70% of all ships are run ashore on tidal beaches in developing countries where toxic material can leach into the surrounding ecosystem and, in Bangladesh, children under 15 years of age count for 20% of the workforce.

Last Saturday, five workers were killed in a fire that broke on a ship beached in Alang, India.

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