Brussels/Rotterdam — 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”.
The case is being heard in a Rotterdam Court this week, and the Dutch Public Prosecutor calls for a hefty fine (€ 2.35 million) 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. The Regulation prohibits EU Member States from exporting hazardous waste to countries outside the OECD, as well as requiring a prior informed consent for such exports. All four vessels departed on their last voyage to the breaking yards from the ports of Rotterdam and Hamburg in the spring of 2012.
The Prosecutor presented evidence that Seatrade was planning on selling the ships via a cash-buyer in order to maximize financial gain. In e-mail exchanges between Seatrade and Baltic Union Shipbrokers, cash buyer GMS offered the highest price for special parts of at least one of the vessels. The end-sale was not to GMS, but another undisclosed cash buyer. 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. According to NGO Shipbreaking, cash buyers, such as GMS, are 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”, explains 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.”
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.
Source: NGO Shipbreaking Platform