For the first time in Europe,
Public Prosecutors are bringing criminal charges against a ship owner –
Seatrade – for having sold vessels to scrap yards in countries “where
current ship dismantling methods endangers the lives and health of workers and
pollutes the environment” for financial benefits alone.
The case is being heard in a Rotterdam Court this week, and the Dutch
Public Prosecutor calls for a hefty
fine (2.35 mill EUR) and confiscation of the profits Seatrade made on the illegal
sale of four ships, as well as a six month prison sentence for three of
Seatrade’s top executives.
Seatrade is based in Groningen,
the Netherlands, and is the largest reefer operator in the world.
In 2013, the NGO
Shipbreaking Platform had revealed Seatrade’s sale of the SPRING BEAR and
SPRING BOB to respectively Indian and Bangladeshi breakers. The heavy charges
pressed by the Dutch Prosecutor additionally involve the scrapping of the
SPRING PANDA and SPRING DELI in Turkey, and are based on international laws
governing the export of hazardous waste and the EU Waste Shipment Regulation.
All four vessels departed
on their last voyage to the breaking yards from the ports of Rotterdam and
Hamburg in the spring of 2012.
Seatrade’s sale of the
two vessels and the scrapping of the other two vessels blatantly violate the
Regulation that prohibits EU Member States from exporting hazardous waste to
countries outside the OECD, as well as requiring a prior informed consent for
Seatrade sold the ships,
via the company Baltic Union Shipbrokers, to cash-buyer GMS.
According to the Prosecutor, Seatrade opted
for using a cash buyer, rather than recycling the ships in a safe and clean
manner, for purely financial reasons.
GMS is an infamous scrap-dealer specialized in
bringing ships to the beaches of South Asia, where the price of end-of-life
vessels is higher due to the exploitation of migrant laborers and to weak, or
no, enforcement of safety and environmental standards.
According to the
Prosecutor, that Seatrade knowingly sold the vessels for dirty and dangerous
breaking in order to maximize profits further aggravates the charge .
“Despite ongoing criminal investigations, Seatrade sold two more
ships – the SINA and ELLAN – for dirty and dangerous breaking on the beach in
Alang, India, in August 2017”, says Ingvild Jenssen, Founder and Director
of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “This case adds itself to the growing
demand, including from investors and major shipping banks, for better ship
recycling practices”, she adds.
Authorities in Norway, Belgium, and the UK will
be paying close attention to the verdict of the case. Similar cases are
currently being investigated there, involving shipping companies such as Maersk
and CMB, as well as the world’s largest cash-buyers GMS and Wirana.