MAERSK Lines, the world’s largest shipping company, has announced it will stop selling decommissioned ships for scrap after it was found to be sending the vessels to unsafe ship-breaking yards in Bangladesh and India, even after publicly calling for an end to the practice.
According to a report by the Danish newspaper Politiken and a brief press statement posted on the Maersk website, the carrier said it would no longer sell its retired ships, and instead would “ensure vessels are scrapped in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.” The company also produced a 37-page manual outlining rules for ship recycling, highlight safety, environmental, and corrupt behavior risks.
This is the second time Maersk has been caught selling old ships to scrappers located in South Asia; the company previously admitted it had done so in 2014. Politiken said, however, that even as Maersk publicly supported a European Union initiative to regulate ship scrapping, it had sold vessels for scrap as recently as this summer, and allegedly even served as a broker for ships from another company as well.
At the time, Maersk justified the practice by saying it was encouraging improved standards in the Indian and Bangladeshi scrapyards.
According to information from the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), a container ship typically has a 25 to 30 year lifespan, and, with scrap prices averaging about $250 per ton (an average containership can have a mass of 100,000 tons or more) can be worth millions for its recyclable metal and other parts. Steel prices are higher in South Asia than in other parts of the world, thus the temptation is great to dispose of old vessels in this way.
The health risks attached to ship scrapping are numerous, including lead or asbestos poisoning, polychlorinated biphenyls and other dangers associated with heavy metals, injury or death from unsafe work practices, and environmental risks from improperly discarded waste products.