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Vessel Scrappage Issues


Since the recession, recent tariff wars and pandemic, international cargo shipments have been disrupted and demand is down relative to the size of current global marine vessel fleet. This trend, in combination with the increased cost of low sulfur fuels, has resulted in older less fuel efficient vessels being taken out of service. These vessels can be disassembled (referred to as ship breaking) and the scrap metal sold. During this process, workers and adjacent communities are exposed to hazardous materials used in the ship’s construction ( e.g. asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, and metals including lead). Often ship breaking occurs by beaching vessels in Asian countries such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan rather than at a proper shipyard, saving the owners from $1 – $4 million dollars per vessel. These countries do not have stringent environmental or safety laws. In 2009 the Hong Kong convention was proposed that provides standards for the ship breaking industry to help mitigate the release of hazardous materials during dismantling. Currently only 6 countries have ratified this convention (a total of 15 are required for the convention to go into effect).

Though there are very good policy and economic assessments of current ship breaking practices, there have been few studies that quantify the environmental and health impacts of these practices. Data from ambient and personal samplers located at sites where ship breaking occurs would help to better characterize air quality impacts of these activities and could be of value in the development of guidance to mitigate these impacts.


To better appreciate the environmental and health impacts of ship breaking, a program of sampling ambient air quality for hazardous air pollutants is recommended. These data can be used to map local emission concentrations, which can be applied to health based air quality standards to identify critical hotspots. Secondarily, an assessment of control measures can be implemented to identify appropriate strategies to reduce emissions and or exposure to these pollutants.


Having a better appreciation of the pollutants and magnitude of these emissions of can help develop effective mitigation measures that can protect the health of communities adjacent to ship breaking operations.

Related Research:

A search of TRB publications did not identify any research on these topics.


Because of the complexity associated with implementing testing programs internationally, this project will focus on developing an inventory plan that can be implemented as a separate project.

Phase I - Test Plan Development

· Locate communities where ship breaking is occurring .

· Compile data on how many vessels are broken up, duration of activity, size and location of adjacent communities, information from local clinics about health impacts of ship breaking, community organizations that have an interest in the testing and could play a role in disseminating results.

· Identify representatives with local and national governments who could advise on the steps that need to be taken to implement the proposed testing program; this could include:

Necessary permits/permissions needed to proceed.

Information specific to the site where testing would take place (e.g. availability of power, local accommodations, site security, other constraints).

Identification of other local and national agencies that have an interest in these activities and may be able to play a role in supporting the test program.

Possible local teaming partners who could help support this testing program.

· Based on information compiled above develop a matrix of all sampling locations and rank them to determine which sites would be most conducive for testing and could have the greatest impact on local health.

· For the top locations develop a plan that lays out how sampling is to be implements including a list of individuals or agencies that will need to be included in the process. If possible this plan could also include training local staff in the sampling protocol

Phase 2 - Initial Mitigation Assessment

· Concurrent with the development of the test plan, an initial compilation of possible mitigation strategies can be assessed that includes methods to reduce worker exposure to HAPs as well as exposure of local community members. This assessment can be refined in the future once test data are analyzed.

Phase 3 – Prepare Documents for Open Bid for Testing Project

Development of detailed scope of work that includes the testing plan and critical information compiled in Phase I pertaining to sampling sites.


International organizations such as IMO and WHO, as well as national environmental and health agencies and NGOs may find data derived from these testing efforts of value in protecting the health of workers and members of surrounding communities. These groups can play an important role in transmitting the testing results to others.


By coupling a testing program with a mitigation assessment, it is possible to quantify local health risks and provide information what can help address those risks. It may be possible to encourage shipping companies that benefit from ship breaking to fund identified mitigation programs.

Sponsoring Committee:AW030, Marine Environment
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:Medium
RNS Developer:Richard Billings
Source Info:European Commission Science for Environment Policy, Thematic Issue: Ship Recycling: reducing human and environmental impacts. June 2016

R. Scott Frey, Breaking Ships in the World-System: an Analysis of Two Ship Breaking Capitals, Alang-Sosiys, India and Chittagong, Bangladesh, Journal of World Systems Research, 21(1):25, August 2015,

IMO, 2012 Guideline for Safe and Environmentally Sound Ship Recycling, adopted by resolution MEPC.211(63)
Rabbiu, Hason Ruhan and Aevelina Rahman, Ship Breaking and Recycling Industry of Bangladesh; Issues and Challenges, Procedia Engineering, Vol 194, 2017.

UNEP, Basel Convention Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management f the Full and Patial Dismantling of Ships. 2003
Date Posted:11/01/2020
Date Modified:01/19/2021
Index Terms:Waste disposal, Shipbreaking, Ships, Hazardous materials, Environmental impacts, Air quality, Health hazards,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Marine Transportation
Vehicles and Equipment

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