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Shipbreaking in Union Bay: Controversy and Environmental Concerns

Shipbreaking in Union Bay: Controversy and Environmental Concerns

Shipbreaking in Union Bay: Controversy and Environmental Concerns

A global coalition highlighting shipbreaking’s dangers is calling for an immediate halt to Deep Water Recovery’s (DWR) shipbreaking activities in Union Bay. On January 11, 2022, NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a Belgium-based nonprofit, addressed a letter to various federal, regional, and provincial authorities, urging them to stop DWR’s operations to protect the environment and local communities from potential harm.

The letter was co-signed by Ingvild Jenssen, executive director of NGO Shipbreaking Platform, and Jim Puckett, executive director of Basel Action Network. Jenssen and Puckett argue that the current methods employed by Deep Water Recovery are not sustainable.

“Vessels can only be recycled safely and in an environmentally sound manner at proper industrial sites that ensure a contained environment with impermeable flooring and drainage systems,” the letter states.

The letter points out that DWR’s operations lack adequate containment measures, risking pollution of water, air, and land due to the various contaminants and harmful materials present in ships, such as asbestos, glass wool, and hazardous paints.

Additionally, the letter highlights the problematic proximity of DWR’s site to residential areas and Baynes Sound, an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area, which requires enhanced management and risk aversion according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Nicola Mulinaris, senior communications and policy advisor for NGO Shipbreaking Platform has been actively involved since the organization was informed about the shipbreaking in Baynes Sound a few years ago. He emphasizes that the activities should not be allowed in such an environment.

“Who in their sane mind would allow or license a facility to operate in such an environment to scrap vessels that are hazardous?” he questioned.

Ideal Process for Dismantling End-of-Life Vessels

A research paper published in 2022 by researchers from Shandong University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai Maritime University, and the University of Maryland outlines that dismantling a ship can take two to three months. The process involves significant risks, including the leakage of oil and wastewater during the emptying and cleaning of oil tanks, and the generation of highly toxic wastes like asbestos during the ship cutting process.

Ships at the end of their life pose increased environmental risks, with chemicals becoming a danger once ships are broken apart. The average lifespan of a service vessel is around 30 years.

Mulinaris criticizes DWR’s shipbreaking operation for its location and inadequate containment of pollutants that could harm people and the environment. He insists that natural shores should not be used for such operations.

Ship dismantling is necessary to prevent abandoned vessels from leaking pollutants, destroying habitats, and posing dangers to other boaters. However, it is also a dangerous process that must be conducted safely to protect both people and the environment.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme and the Secretariat of the Basel Convention, ships should undergo preparatory procedures such as removing hazardous waste and contaminants before being taken to a scrapping yard. The guidelines also recommend that shipbreaking operations occur in contained spaces with proper facilities for handling and storing hazardous waste and equipment.

DWR’s Waste Management Practices

Mark Jurisich of DWR was asked about the company’s waste management practices, specifically regarding asbestos. Jurisich did not provide specific details but questioned the implication that they might be irresponsibly disposing of waste.

The technique used by DWR for shipbreaking, known as beaching, is criticized by Mulinaris. Ideally, ship dismantling should be done in a dry dock, which is a narrow basin that can be flooded and drained to provide a secure and contained environment for workers to repair, maintain, or recycle ships. Other sustainable options include using piers or slipways, provided proper waste management is in place.

Jurisich, in an email on May 8, 2024, clarified that what appeared to be ship dismantling was maintenance work to repurpose barges. He also mentioned that DWR is in the process of becoming certified under the Hong Kong Convention, which aims to ensure safe and environmentally friendly ship recycling.

Jurisich also criticized the term “shipbreaking,” arguing that it inaccurately describes environmentally unfriendly recycling methods used in certain countries and does not reflect the standards set by the Hong Kong Convention, which refers to the process as ship recycling.

NGO Shipbreaking Platform’s Involvement in Canada

Canada’s waste management practices have been criticized, with instances of illegal export of unsorted household trash to developing countries. This has raised concerns about Canada allowing internal pollution. Mulinaris cites the Sir Robert Bond case, where a ferry was illegally exported from Canada to India for scrapping, as an example of Canada’s failure to comply with international waste regulations.

The situation in Union Bay marks the first case involving the local Canadian environment and ecosystem. Most of NGO Shipbreaking Platform’s work focuses on holding ship owners and countries accountable for sending ships to unsafe yards, particularly in South Asia, where safety regulations are often lax.

Local Worker and Resident Concerns

Shipbreaking is inherently dangerous, with numerous accidents and fatalities reported worldwide. For instance, more than 1,000 workers have died in shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh since the 1980s, and at least 434 workers died in Indian yards between 1991 and 2012. Even in places with stricter regulations, such as the United States, fatal accidents have occurred.

In Baynes Sound, the primary risk of shipbreaking is environmental, but there are also concerns for the health and safety of workers and local residents. Asbestos, a highly carcinogenic material, is a significant risk. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform cites studies indicating that shipbreaking workers face an increased risk of developing asbestos-related diseases and cancer.

One of the vessels at the DWR site, the Miller Freeman, contains asbestos and caught fire in Seattle in 2013, raising concerns about toxic chemicals. The vessel was later seen in the Fraser River before ending up at the Deep Water Recovery site.

When asked about asbestos abatement and making the scrapping yard more sustainable, Jurisich defended the company’s practices and questioned the sustainability concerns raised. He also mentioned the historical contamination of Union Bay due to coal mining, suggesting that the area was already compromised.

Mulinaris argues that the government should shut down the site instead of merely warning DWR to stop polluting. He questions the rationale behind allowing hazardous activities that endanger local communities for the sake of a few toxic barges.

In conclusion, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform and other advocates are pushing for a halt to DWR’s shipbreaking operations in Union Bay, citing environmental and health risks. Proper containment and sustainable practices are crucial to prevent further harm to the local environment and communities. The ongoing debate highlights the need for stringent regulations and oversight in the shipbreaking industry to protect both people and the planet.

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