Cruise: The surprising industry that has suffered because of ship disposal

Cruise holidays are a popular choice for those looking to view the world safely and comfortably. However, sometimes when ships come to the end of their life, they are not disposed of correctly which can cause environmental damage. Iain Butterworth, a member of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers’ (FOIL) Environmental SFT and Solicitor at Thomas Miller Law spoke exclusively to about some of the poor practices than can take place when ships are disposed of and the industry that has been impacted by it.

Butterworth explained that he began his career as a Marine Engineer on vessels and is now a Marine Lawyer and Consultant.

“I’ve seen ships being cut up in front of my eyes in various jurisdictions,” he explained.

He continued: “I’m aware of all of the issues in how this should and shouldn’t be done.”

Butterworth explained that cruise ship disposal, and recycling of vessels in general in some parts of the world – namely Asia – can cause considerable damage to the environment.

Alang in India, known as being one of the biggest ship recycling yards in the world, is one of the least regulated, according to Butterworth.

Ships are driven up onto the beach and are taken apart using sledgehammers and burning gear.

They are then dismantled on the beach with the paint, oils and steel filings all flowing into the surrounding environment.

Butterworth explained that there is “no environmental protection” and that it is largely “unregulated”.

He did explain that not all the recycling yards in India or Bangladesh are like this.

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“It’s allowed to go on unchecked really”, he added.

“It’s not only the physical environment but in Bangladesh prior to becoming a recycling facility it’s biggest industry was fishing.

“But that’s been cut by about 95 percent.

“Not only that but environmental tests on the fish and on the sand show that the fish are carrying very high levels of dangerous pollutants and in some cases the sand can be made up of 30 or 40 percent steel from filings and the remnants of what comes from ships.”

A spokesperson from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) told “Recycling ships in a manner that is both safe and environmentally sound is of tremendous importance to the cruise industry, which is at the forefront in the development of responsible environmental practices and technologies that lead the way in sustainable tourism.

“Ship recycling is an issue facing the entire maritime community and the shipping industry has encouraged IMO member states to ratify the Hong Kong Convention.”

Butterworth added: “The Hong Kong international convention of the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships is a 2009 convention.

“It regulates how vessels are recycled.”

The Hong Kong Convention requires ratification by at least 15 IMO member states, and representing 40 percent of global tonnage to come into effect.

Currently, the member states which have ratified the Convention, represent just under 30 percent of global tonnage.

“So currently, there is not internationally ratified convention for the recycling of ships,” Butterworth explained.

“The EU has already brought in its own set of requirements into law.”

While facilities to dispose of ships in the European Union are growing continuously, there are not enough facilities to accommodate all of the ships, across all sectors of shipping that are bound for recycling.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the world’s fleet of ships is about 90,000 vessels—with the average number of large ships being scrapped each year at about 500-700.

It is important to note that cruise ships comprise far less than one percent of the global maritime community.

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