Not all European countries were equally excited about approving the agreement regarding increased responsibility in ship scrapping. An agreement that will, among other things, help prevent beaching, in which ships are scrapped on the beaches of South Asia under highly questionable environmental and working conditions. In fact, the agreement almost wasn't approved at all when it was up for a vote in Brussels last week.
Four countries voted against it, while three countries abstained from voting, an act that counts as a negative vote. If just one more medium-sized country had "gone the wrong way," as a source says, there would not have been a majority in favor of the proposal. According to ShippingWatch's information, Cyprus, Malta, Bulgaria, and Estonia voted against the proposal, and that wasn't a big surprise, according to sources.
Cyprus and Malta both have a massive interest in maintaining the European fleet, as many shipowners have ships sailing under those flags. During the many negotiations concerning the agreement, several parties voiced concerns that the regulations would lead many shipowners to outflag their ships in order to avoid the increased requirements for scrapping. Something that most likely resulted in Cyprus and Malta voting against the proposal, sources say.
The big surprise, however, was Hungary, which declined to vote. The country has no ships, ports, or any major interests in shipping.
"No one knows why. They have zero interests, they never showed any concerns about the agreement, but in the end they chose not to vote," a source close to the proceedings tells ShippingWatch.
Green image failed to show
The great shipping nation of Germany also declined to vote, allegedly because transportation and environmental ministries disagreed on the matter. The environmental ministry wanted to vote yes while the transportation ministry wanted to vote against the proposal, which ultimately meant that the country opted not to vote. This came as a suprise to most, largely due to Germany's green image and the country's large number of shipowners.
Now the Parliament and the Council of Ministers have to officially approve the agreement, after which the European Commission has to establish a so-called positive list of approved scrapping facilities in and outside of the EU. The Commission has three to five years to get the job done, which means that the scrapping requirements look set to become effective in 2018, at the latest.
NGO doesn't believe in the agreement
Several NGOs have criticized the agreement for not being ambitious enough. Especially because the agreement was approved without including a financial mechanism. The idea of a so-called scrapping fund, where all ships calling in European ports would have to pay a special tariff, was voted down by the Parliament. The money from the fund would have helped finance European carriers' future scrapping at approved facilities, which will be more expensive than the criticized scrapping in Southeast Asia.
Additionally, the NGOs fear that the new agreement will exclude ships from the Basel convention, which regulates transportation of dangerous waste. According to Sustainable Shipping, they warn that "there are clear and convincing legal perspectives proving that this one-sided exemption of ships is a violation of the EU legal obligations relating to the Basel convention and its Basel Ban Amendment (a ban against exporting dangerous waste from the 29 richest countries in the OECD)."
Head of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, which recently published a list of countries that have scrapped ships on the beaches of Southeast Asia, says:
"Not only do the EU institutions create a legal dilemma for themselves, but also for all of the 27 European Member States that are parties to the Basel Convention. All will have to reconcile the illegality of unilaterally acting in non-compliance with their international obligations," she says, according to Sustainable Shipping, adding:
“We are concerned that the shortcomings of the regulation will make it ineffective and worse still, that the EU could be setting a dangerous precedent for other industries that want to avoid being held accountable to international environmental laws."