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Rules of the Road: Ship recycling rule applies to yachts, too

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Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers

With the renewed push for more environmentally friendly approaches in yachting, this month’s column will revisit and update an existing topic:  ship recycling. This is not the simple action of separating the yacht’s trash into multiple bins. It is the actual process of reclaiming the construction materials of a vessel.

The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted in May 2009. It is aimed at ensuring that ships (including yachts), when being recycled after reaching the end of their operational lives, do not pose any unnecessary risk to human health and safety or to the environment.

The convention addresses all major issues surrounding ship recycling, including the fact that ships sold for scrapping may contain environmentally hazardous substances such as asbestos, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and ozone-depleting substances. It also addresses concerns raised about the working and environmental conditions at many of the world’s ship recycling locations.

Regulations in the Convention cover multiple areas of concern for both ships and the facilities that recycle them. For ships, the convention requires that the design, construction, operation, and preparation of ships must facilitate safe and environmentally sound recycling, without compromising the safety and operational efficiency.  For ship recycling facilities, their operations must be conducted in a safe and environmentally sound manner. To ensure international compliance with these regulations, the convention also establishes an enforcement mechanism for ship recycling, incorporating certification and reporting requirements.

Ships to be sent for recycling will be required to carry an inventory of hazardous materials, which will be specific to each ship.

For the applicability towards yachts, the convention defines a ship as “a vessel of any type whatsoever operating in the marine environment and includes hydrofoil boats, air-cushion vehicles, submersibles, floating craft and fixed or floating platforms and a vessel that has been stripped of equipment or is towed.” The convention specifically states that all ships over 500 gross tons, except warships, government-owned vessels, and those operating exclusively in domestic waters, shall comply. This includes both new construction and existing yachts.

As you will note, similar to other rules such as MARPOL and the Anti-Fouling Convention, there is no differentiation between a private (pleasure) or commercial yacht. All yachts must be compliant. In addition, for shipyards and repair facilities, it is obvious that this convention is geared predominantly towards those entities that break down large, merchant ships. It is important to note that the convention also does not differentiate from traditional “scrap” shipyards and those that build yachts. As more yards begin to deliver larger and larger yachts, their design and build approaches will have to incorporate the entire lifespan of the yacht and not just those specific requests of the owner.

When can we expect this rule to take affect? The convention has been open for accession by any member state. It will enter into force 24 months after the date on which 15 member states, representing 40 percent of the world’s merchant shipping by gross tonnage, have either (a) signed it without reservation as to ratification, acceptance, or approval; or (b) have deposited instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession with the IMO secretary general.  To date, the convention has been signed, subject to ratification or acceptance, by Belgium, Congo, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Turkey. Based upon this rate, the final entry into force date is expected by 2020.

This type of “cradle-to-grave” regulatory approach is not new.  It has been successfully used by the U.S. EPA since 1976 for a multitude of hazardous materials ranging from medical waste to nuclear fuel. However, it is unique to the international maritime industry. Proper implementation of the convention by those of us working in the industry is critical. We must ensure that its true purpose is met and not made into a paperwork exercise.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (yachtbureau.org). Comments are welcome below.

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