In a significant move, Bangladesh has recently given its approval for the enforcement of the Hong Kong Convention on the safe recycling of ships and offshore assets. This decision marks a significant milestone for Bangladesh as it becomes the second sub-continent recycling destination, after India, to ratify this convention.
Bringing the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships closer to its entry into force requires the participation of one large-flag nation. The convention, initially adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) at a Diplomatic Conference in Hong Kong in 2009, mandates the ratification by 15 nations representing 40% of global commercial shipping in gross tons. These nations should also have a combined maximum annual ship recycling volume of at least 3% of their total tonnage.
While the number of signatory nations has reached 20, their combined tonnage only accounts for approximately 30% of the world’s merchant shipping. Therefore, the inclusion of one large-flag nation is necessary to fulfill the criteria for entry into force.
The lengthy 14-year process led the European Union (EU) to develop its own set of regulations known as the EU Ship Recycling Regulation (EU SRR). However, the requirements of the EU SRR do not align with those of the Hong Kong Convention, and as a result, no recycling facility in India, Bangladesh, or Pakistan has received approval under the EU SRR framework. In contrast, 97 shipyards in India and three in Bangladesh have been validated by international classification societies as compliant with the Hong Kong Convention.
Consequently, ship owners whose vessels are registered under European flags are unable to sell them to recycling facilities in the Indian subcontinent. This situation raises concerns about a potential recycling bottleneck, as Turkey, the only other major ship recycling nation, lacks the capacity to handle the anticipated volume of end-of-life ships in the future.
The issue becomes even more complex due to the requirements of the United Nations Basel Convention, which prohibits owners of ships in OECD nations from exporting “waste” to non-OECD countries. Despite the fact that end-of-life ships are sometimes acquired for further trading during their scrap voyage, they are legally classified as waste. This poses challenges when it comes to their disposal.
In response to these challenges, Bangladesh has taken a step forward by committing to ratify the Hong Kong Convention. This move demonstrates leadership and acknowledges the need for a global system to effectively govern ship recycling. Regional systems that overlook the economic realities of the industry can be easily circumvented. By ratifying the convention, Bangladesh ensures sufficient compliant recycling capacity under the oversight of national authorities and the IMO, the United Nations regulator for the maritime industry.
John Stawpert, Senior Manager (Environment and Trade) at the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), commented on Bangladesh’s decision, emphasizing the importance of ship recycling in achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. As the industry progresses towards decarbonization, decommissioned vessels will need to be replaced by net-zero vessels. Ratifying the Hong Kong Convention guarantees a supply of vessels for facilities that adhere to its standards, supporting the industry’s transition toward a more sustainable future.