The Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships is an International Maritime Organization treaty aimed at improving the ship recycling industry. However, its ratification has been delayed for over 14 years since its adoption in 2009. India has been eager for its ratification and has invested in compliance with the treaty even before it becomes law. The recent ratification of the convention by Bangladesh has brought it closer to approval, but the final ratifications from major flag states could still delay its finalization.
India has expressed concerns about the delay in ratification and the potential consequences of ships being recycled in non-compliant yards. They fear that lower operational costs and less stringent health, safety, and environmental regulations in such yards could undermine the confidence in safety and environmental regulations followed by compliant yards.
India has proposed three ways to accelerate the adoption of the convention. Firstly, they suggested amending the convention to allow for early implementation, although this proposal may no longer be necessary if the ratification thresholds are soon met. Secondly, India called for the IMO to encourage member states to recycle their ships at Hong Kong Convention-compliant yards even before the convention goes into effect. Finally, they urged ship-breaking nations to upgrade their facilities to meet the convention’s requirements before its implementation.
Some ship-breaking yards in India, Turkey, and Bangladesh have already voluntarily undergone assessment and obtained statements of compliance with the Hong Kong Convention, demonstrating a positive approach and growing momentum in the industry. However, there are challenges in the ship-breaking market, including the rules of the Basel Convention, which restrict the recycling of ships from OECD countries outside the group of developed countries.
Nikos Mikelis, a former IMO official involved in the Hong Kong Convention, mentioned the difficulties of applying the Basel Convention to ships and the amendment’s impact on recycling nations. He also noted that encouraging shipowners and recycling facilities to comply voluntarily with the convention could face challenges, particularly in financially strained sectors.
While India’s proposal for resolutions encouraging compliance may face obstacles, it may be necessary to wait for the ratification of the Hong Kong Convention to see how the situation unfolds. However, some critics argue that compliance with the convention alone is not sufficient to address the environmental and safety issues in the ship-breaking sector, as it fails to address labor rights and the fate of hazardous materials once they leave the recycling facilities.
There are concerns about the ship recycling center in Alang, India, where compliance with the convention has been documented but certain safety and environmental features, as required by environmental groups and EU officials, are lacking. This has led to the European Commission not approving some facilities in Alang during audits conducted for compliance with the EU Ship Recycling Regulation.