Ship recycling is a long-established practice for dealing with ships at the end of their operational life and is widely regarded as the best, i.e., most practicable, option.
When conducted properly, ship recycling embraces the "cradle to grave" concept: it results in almost all materials and equipment used in the manufacture of a ship being re-used in other forms, an outcome which is both environmentally sound and energy efficient. For instance, using recycled steel requires just one third of the energy used in the manufacture of steel from raw materials.
While the principle of ship recycling is sound, the working practices and environmental standards in ship recycling facilities vary from yard to yard. Global regulation will ensure safe working practices for those employed in ship recycling yards, along with consistent environmental standards.
The Hong Kong Convention
The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009 (the Hong Kong Convention) is aimed at ensuring that ships, when being recycled after reaching the end of their operational lives, do not pose any unnecessary risks to human health, safety and to the environment. The Hong Kong Convention was adopted at a diplomatic conference held in Hong Kong, China, from 11 to 15 May 2009 and will enter into force on 26 June 2025. The entry-into-force date was set in June 2023 when all required criteria were met:
- not less than 15 States;
- not less than 40% of the world's merchant shipping by gross tonnage; and
- ship recycling capacity of not less than 3% of the gross tonnage of the combined merchant shipping of those States mentioned above.
Regulations in the Convention cover: the design, construction, operation and preparation of ships so as to facilitate safe and environmentally sound recycling without compromising the safety and operational efficiency of ships; the operation of ship recycling facilities in a safe and environmentally sound manner; and the establishment of an appropriate enforcement mechanism for ship recycling, incorporating certification and reporting requirements.
Since the adoption of the Hong Kong Convention, IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) has developed and adopted the following guidelines to assist States in the implementation and enforcement of the Convention's technical standards:
- 2011 Guidelines for the Development of the Ship Recycling Plan, adopted by resolution MEPC.196(62);
- 2012 Guidelines for Safe and Environmentally Sound Ship Recycling, adopted by resolution MEPC.210(63);
- 2012 Guidelines for the Authorization of Ship Recycling Facilities, adopted by resolution MEPC.211(63)
- 2012 Guidelines for the survey and certification of ships under the Hong Kong Convention, adopted by resolution MEPC.222(64); and
- 2012 Guidelines for the inspection of ships under the Hong Kong Convention, adopted by resolution MEPC.223(64).
- 2023 Guidelines for the development of the Inventory of the Hazardous Materials, adopted by resolution MEPC.379(80).
What must ships do to comply with the Convention?
Under the Hong Kong Convention ships must have on board an Inventory of Hazardous Materials specific to each ship, which must be prepared, verified and kept up to date, in line with IMO guidelines.
Following that initial verification survey, ships will be required to have additional surveys during the life of the ship, and a final survey prior to recycling.
What must ship recycling yards do to be compliant with the Hong Kong Convention?
Ship recycling facilities/yards operating within the jurisdiction of a Party to the Convention must be authorized by the Competent Authority(ies) of that Party. Each yard must prepare a Ship Recycling Facility Plan addressing: worker safety and training; protection of human health and the environment; roles and responsibilities of personnel; emergency preparedness and response; and monitoring, reporting and record-keeping systems, taking into account the relevant IMO guidelines.
Before a ship can be recycled, the ship recycling facility must provide a Ship Recycling Plan which is specific to each vessel that is to be recycled. It must specify the way an individual ship will be recycled, depending on its particulars and its inventory.
IMO's role in the recycling of ships, the terminology used to refer to ship scrapping, was first raised at the 44th MEPC session in March 2000, following which a correspondence group was established to research this issue and provide information about current ship recycling practices and suggestions on the role of IMO.
Guidelines were developed by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) and finalized at the 49th MEPC session in July 2003. These guidelines were adopted as the: Guidelines on Ship Recycling by the 23rd Assembly in November-December 2003 by resolution A.962(23) and were subsequently amended by resolution A.980(24). The IMO Guidelines on Ship Recycling (resolution A.962(23)) give advice to all stakeholders in the recycling process, including administrations of ship building and maritime equipment supplying countries, flag, port and recycling States, as well as intergovernmental organizations and commercial bodies such as shipowners, ship builders, repairers and recycling yards.
Subsequently, at its 53rd session in July 2005, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) agreed that the IMO should develop, as a high priority, a new instrument on recycling of ships with a view to providing legally binding and globally applicable ship recycling regulations for international shipping and for recycling facilities. MEPC 53 also agreed that the new IMO instrument on ship recycling should include regulations for the design, construction, operation and preparation of ships so as to facilitate safe and environmentally sound recycling, without compromising the safety and operational efficiency of ships; the operation of ship recycling facilities in a safe and environmentally sound manner; and the establishment of an appropriate enforcement mechanism for ship recycling (certification/reporting requirements). MEPC 53 further agreed that the above-mentioned instrument should be completed in time for its consideration and adoption in the biennium 2008-2009.
The IMO Assembly in November-December 2005 subsequently agreed that IMO should develop a new legally-binding instrument on ship recycling. Assembly resolution A.981(24) on New legally-binding instrument on Ship Recycling requested the Marine Environment Protection Committee to develop a new instrument that would provide regulations for:
- the design, construction, operation and preparation of ships so as to facilitate safe and environmentally sound recycling, without compromising the safety and operational efficiency of ships;
- the operation of ship recycling facilities in a safe and environmentally sound manner; and
- the establishment of an appropriate enforcement mechanism for ship recycling, incorporating certification and reporting requirements.
The resolution referred to the urgent need for IMO to contribute to the development of an effective solution to the issue of ship recycling, which will minimize, in the most effective, efficient and sustainable way, the environmental, occupational health and safety risks related to ship recycling, taking into account the particular characteristics of world maritime transport and the need for securing the smooth withdrawal of ships that have reached the end of their operating lives.
Subsequently, over a period of three and a half years, the text of the Hong Kong Convention was developed with input from IMO Member States and relevant non-governmental organizations, and in co-operation with the International Labour Organization and the Parties to the Basel Convention.
Eventually, the Hong Kong Convention was adopted at the diplomatic conference held in Hong Kong, China, in May 2009.