Denmark Environment Minister Under Fire for Dodging Questions About Maersk’s Shipbreaking Policy

The former Maersk Wyoming at the Shree Ram yard in Alang, India. Photo courtesy Maersk
The former Maersk Wyoming at the Shree Ram yard in Alang, India. Photo courtesy Maersk

Denmark’s Environmental Minister has come under fire for failing to provide concrete answers to questions regarding the Danish government’s position on shipbreaking in South Asia amid Maersk’s controversial decision to send end-of-life ships to approved yards in Alang, India for recycling.

The Danish Environment Minister, Esben Lunde Larsen, was in Brussels Wednesday to answer questions before Parliament from opposition parties who are calling on the Government to ensure that Maersk’s end-of-life vessels cannot be broken down in beaching yards.

But according to the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, instead of answering the questions directly however, Minister Larsen simply read prepared answers and paraphrased the Hong Kong Convention, quoting technical details and the obligation to follow the law.

“The MPs present… incessantly pressed the Minister to answer concrete and direct questions on the Danish government’s position on beaching, Maersk’s threat to flag out, and whether the government is pressing the EU Commission to list beaching yards in Alang on the upcoming EU list of accepted facilities world-wide,” the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said in a statement slamming the Minister.

“To all the questions and comments, the Minister however repeatedly appealed to his ignorance about the shipbreaking industry and to the literal text of the EU guidelines under the Ship Recycling Regulation,” the group said.

The questions come after investigative journalists last month published a scathing piece in the daily newspaper Politiken revealing safety and workers’ rights violations at the Shree Ram yard in Alang where Maersk sent two ships to be dismantled earlier this year. Maersk came under even more fire when after a former Maersk oil vessel, North Sea Producer, ended up on an unapproved beach in Bangladesh, unbeknownst to the company.

Earlier this year Maersk Line, the world’s largest container shipping company, said under a new company policy it would start sending end-of-life ships to certain Hong Kong Convention-compliant facilities in Alang, India, where the company says it can save $1 to $2 million per ship. The company sent its first two ships to Alang’s Shree Ram yard in May.

The move by Maersk has drawn harsh criticism from environmental and human rights labor groups who argue that the practice of beaching will never be safe or environmentally-sound. Some also accuse Maersk of skirting European law by using flags of convenience.

Maersk has always openly defended its position on Alang, saying its presence and investments there will actually expedite improvements at yards that are compliant with international standards for ship recycling.

“It is shocking that the Minister gave no political comment or direction, but rather only contained a copy-pasted quotation fed to him by Maersk,” said Ingvild Jenssen, Policy Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “It reveals the lack of political backbone when we see that Maersk is in such a powerful position to issue statements on behalf of the Danish government and that the Minister seems to believe this is acceptable.”