Scuttling of the former aircraft carrier “Foch”: what rules apply for the dismantling of ships?

The former aircraft carrier Foch, a former flagship of the French Navy, transferred to the Brazilian flag in 2000, will be sunk in the Atlantic due to the deterioration of its hull. There is no other solution than‘”a spontaneous sinking”, said the Brazilian Navy in a press release. An area some 350 km off the Brazilian coast, 5,000 meters deep, was considered to be “the safest” for this scuttling.

>>> Brazil: we tell you about the long drift of the aircraft carrier “Foch” which will end at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean

This is not a first. In 2004, the Royal Navy scuttled an old frigate off Cornwall and in 2006, it was the United States that sank an old aircraft carrier, theOriskany, off Florida. However, they had taken the precaution of cleaning it up beforehand. Because despite the ecological and health dangers induced by the demolition of these buildings, there are no real international legal instruments framing it. For the time being, only the Basel Convention of 1989 establishes community regulations on the transfer of waste, in particular by prohibiting the export of hazardous waste such as asbestos to non-OECD countries. But it only concerns ships with a gross tonnage of less than 500 and is often circumvented by the practice of deflagging.

Dismantling mainly carried out in poorly equipped countries

At present, according to the European Commission, Europeans own 35% of the world’s commercial fleet, ie nearly 15,000 ships, 10,000 of which are under the flag of a Member State. But only 7% of these ships are dismantled in Europe. The professional organization Armateurs de France estimates that in all, 90 to 95% of ship dismantling takes place in India, Bangladesh, China and Turkey. “There are physical risks for the workers because they are poorly protected in these countries.points out Jacky Bonnemains, spokesperson for the Robin Hood environmental defense association. They barely have gloves, not always helmets or safety shoes. There are risks of sudden accidents, often fatal or leading to mutilation”. In 2013, the dismantling in Turkey of the formerPacific Princessthe liner of the series The cruise has funTo caused the death of two workers, poisoned by toxic gases escaping from the engine room. Italy, which had passed the Pacific Princess under exotic flag just before its transfer, will not be held responsible.

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In an attempt to alleviate this type of drama, the Member States of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted in 2009 in Hong Kong, the first international convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of end-of-life ships. France was the first of the 15 states to ratify it. But it has still not entered into force. In 2013, the Europeans therefore developed regulations inspired by it, in force since January 2019. It puts in place specific measures applicable to large commercial seagoing vessels (existing and new) of a gross tonnage greater than or equal to 500 tons flying the flag of a Member State of the United States. EU. It does not apply to warships or other state-owned vessels.

An inventory of hazardous materials

This regulation obliges the owners of the buildings to have on board an inventory of hazardous materials (asbestos, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, substances that deplete the ozone layer, etc.), certified by the administration and establishes that recycling can only be carried out in a facility approved by Brussels. The European list included in April 2022, 46 approved facilities, 37 in Europe (EU + Norway and United Kingdom), eight in Turkey and one in the United States. In France, the four approved facilities are Démonaval Recycling (Seine-Maritime), Gardet & de Bézenac Recycling – Baudelet Environnement group (Seine-Maritime), GPM Bordeaux (Gironde) and Navaléo – Recycleurs Bretons group (Finistère).

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