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Hong Kong Convention on ship recycling boosted by Japanese ratification

2 April, 2019The campaign to clean up ship breaking – the most dangerous job in the world - has received a major boost as Japan becomes the first Asian country to ratify the Hong Kong Convention.

Japan has become the tenth country, and the first in Asia, to ratify the Hong Kong Convention for the Safe Recycling and Environmentally Sound of Ships, created by UN shipping agency the International Maritime Organization.

The purpose of the Convention is to minimize environmental and Occupational Safety and Health risks, while enabling the replacement of old ships. It requires appropriate safety and environmental management, including the development of a ship recycling plan, specifying the manner in which each ship will be recycled. Ships sent for recycling will be required to carry an inventory of hazardous materials so that they can be properly controlled, to remove risks at the ship recycling facility.

This is to prevent disasters such as the explosion at the Gadani yard in Pakistan in November 2016, caused because workers were forced to start dismantling the ship before the fuel tank could be cleaned of leftover fuel.

The Hong Kong Convention will only enter into force when:

  1. At least 15 states have ratified it
  2. The merchant fleets of the ratifying states account for 40 per cent of global gross tonnage
  3. The ratifying states have recycled at least three per cent of their combined tonnage over the past ten years.

IndustriALL Global Union, which represents workers in both ship building and ship breaking, has long campaign for states to ratify the Convention, and for ship and yard owners to ensure ships are recycled safely.

The Convention has been ratified by Belgium, Denmark, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Panama, the Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Serbia and Turkey, representing 23 per cent of the gross tonnage of the world's merchant shipping. Serbia and the Netherlands ratified the Convention earlier this year, creating a sense of momentum to the campaign.

Kan Matsuzaki, IndustriALL director for ship building and ship breaking, said:

“Japan become the first major maritime state in Asia to ratify the convention. Our affiliates JBU and FNV made a big effort to lobby the Japanese and Netherlands government to ratify the Convention.

“IndustriALL’s campaign on the Convention is definitely working. We will intensify our lobbying to target core shipbreaking countries in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China which we need for the Convention to enter into force.”

Despite the fact that the Convention has not yet entered into force, intense lobbying by IndustriALL and other actors means that some ship owners have concluded that safe and environmentally sound ship recycling makes good business sense. Ship owners and financiers are aware of the reputational damage of having their ships involved in accidents or causing pollution.

These owners ensure that their ships are only recycled in yards which comply with the Convention. This creates an incentive for yards to compete on compliance rather than cost, and in India, 72 yards now comply with the Convention.