Old ships to Asia: Shipping companies are said to have cheated when scrapping

In the EU, the scrapping of old ships is strictly regulated.

Old ships to Asia: Shipping companies are said to have cheated when scrapping

In the EU, the scrapping of old ships is strictly regulated. These may only be recycled in EU-certified facilities. Nevertheless, German shipping companies are said to have sold their disused giant ships to Asia for this purpose.

The judiciary in northern Germany is increasingly concerned with the scrapping of disused ships on beaches in Asia. In connection with proceedings against two managers of a Rendsburg shipping company, three managers of the Hamburg shipping company Peter Döhle Schiffahrts-KG have now also been targeted by the public prosecutor's office in Kiel. As intermediary brokers, they are said to have helped bring a container ship to Alang in India for scrapping. A spokesman for the public prosecutor's office in Kiel confirmed the investigation on request, but did not name any names.

According to research by the NDR and the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", it is said to be the owners of the shipping company, Jochen and Christoph Döhle, and the managing director Gaby Bornheim. Bornheim has also been President of the Association of German Shipowners (VDR) since December. The shipping company did not want to comment, referring to an ongoing investigation. "We can assure you that we are interested in a complete clarification of the allegations against us and are fully cooperating with the investigating authorities," she said in writing.

In principle, the VDR does not want to comment on the affairs of member companies. "However, it is important for us to state that Dr. Bornheim is not being investigated in her capacity as President of the VDR," emphasized the association. It is regrettable that the investigation has already become public knowledge. "There is no basis for prejudice." Charges have already been brought against the two accused in the Rendsburg case.

For the judiciary, it is a "pilot procedure", as the spokesman for the public prosecutor said. Accordingly, no case of illegal ship scrapping in Germany has previously ended up in court. The Hamburg public prosecutor's office has been investigating several entrepreneurs for a long time because of a similar suspicion. They are said to have sold three ships knowing that they had run onto an unsecured beach in Pakistan and were scrapped there in environmentally hazardous circumstances.

Formally, this procedure, known in the "Beaching" sector, is a violation of the Waste Shipment Act, for which, according to the public prosecutor's office, a fine or imprisonment of up to five years is provided. In the EU, the scrapping of old ships is strictly regulated. These may only be recycled in EU-certified facilities; the installations themselves may also be located outside the Union. Otherwise, direct export of the scrap ship would be illegal. The problem for investigators: They only have access if they can prove that a ship was taken directly from Germany to a non-certified facility in Asia, for example.

The often complicated ownership of ships can also complicate investigations. The international non-governmental organization Shipbreaking Platform has for years denounced environmental damage, human rights violations, child labour, illnesses and fatalities as well as accidents in connection with the scrapping of old ships via "Beaching". In 2021 alone, 583 of the largest tankers, bulk carriers, floating platforms, cargo and passenger vessels landed on the beaches of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, according to the organization.

Old ships are - especially in view of the currently high steel prices - a coveted commodity for scrap dealers. Actually, environmentally friendly and safe scrapping should have been regulated globally long ago. There has been an international agreement on paper since 2009, which Germany ratified in 2019. However, this so-called Hong Kong Convention will only come into force when at least 15 countries with 40 percent of the global merchant fleet tonnage have joined. There are now 17 countries involved, but they only represent just under 30 percent of the tonnage. According to the World Maritime Organization (IMO), only two of the top 5 countries for ship recyclers, India and Turkey, have signed, while Bangladesh, Pakistan and China have not yet signed.