Experts divided over old ship imports

Update: October, 15/2014 - 07:55
A revised law allowing the import of used ships has raised controversy as some experts think that it is profitable while others are afraid of its serious impact on the environment. — Photo

HA NOI (VNS) — A revised law allowing the import of used ships has inspired spirited debate amongst authorities and experts. While some believe the law will boost the profitable shipping industry, others are afraid serious environmental impacts will occur if not strictly controlled.

Under the revised Law on Environmental Protection, set to go into effect on January 1 next year, individuals and enterprises may import old ships intended for demolition provided they satisfy environmental requirements.

Duong Thanh An, Director of the Department of Policy and Legal Affairs of the Viet Nam Environmental Administration, said that importers are required to prepare an application package that includes an environmental protection dossier. The dossier includes a declaration of the actual state of the ship, a written commitment to abide by environmental standards and a copy of the ship yard's certificate of satisfaction of environmental protection conditions.

"Environmental damage insurance is also a must," An said.

A profitable industry

The Viet Nam Maritime Administration explained in its draft decree that recycling ships would be a huge and high-quality source of material for the country's steel industry.

In 2012, Viet Nam had to import nearly 4 million tonnes of scrap steel, mostly from China. Since 2012, the need for steel imports reportedly increased by 2.5 million due to a number of newly operating electrical steel companies.

"The permission to import these ships will benefit the economy and create a lot of employment opportunities for labourers," said the administration's director, Nguyen Nhat.

"More importantly, it will create opportunities and solutions necessary for survival of the nation's ship building industry, which is undergoing a quite difficult time," he said.

According to the maritime administration, ship builders in Viet Nam have recently seen fewer contracts for ship building and repairs. Meanwhile, enterprises that demolish and recycle used ships have plenty of experienced labourers with nothing to do.

Do Thai Binh, a shipbuilding engineer from HCM City's Marine Science and Technology University, is in favour of the new import allowance. He argues that countries should have a ship demolishing and recycling industry, especially true for a developing Viet Nam.

Such an industry is inherently beneficial to the environment since it reuses scraps and old machines from ships, he told Dat Viet (Viet Land) newspaper. Citing the experiences of Bangladesh and Germany, he said only 3-4 per cent of a used ship cannot be reused and recycled.

Unavoidable warnings

Despite Binh's favourable stance, he stressed the importance of ensuring environmentally sound practices in the demolishing and recycling process.

"The regulations shouldn't be only those on paper. Recycling enterprises should be inspected carefully to determine how best to deal with toxic waste from the ships," he said.

He added that there must be a specialised team to address all the potential environmental threats, including old paint and oily bilge water.

Professor Pham Ngoc Dang, Vice President of the Viet Nam Association for Environment and Nature Protection, also warned about the threats of toxic wastes such as oil, asbestos and heavy metals like mercury, lead, copper, zinc, aluminium and iron.

He said that, many people spoke only of the potential profits to businesses and the State budget; the demolition of a big ship could bring in millions of dollars. However, he was skeptical of such talk.

"I believe the profit can only be gained if enterprises ignore the intricacies of the waste treatment process," he said.

Do Huu Hao, President of the Viet Nam Environmental Industry Association, urged for strict regulations to be imposed on import enterprises.

"The most important thing is that import enterprises must own a large area for such work and they must have waste treatment capacities in place," he said.

"All the processes and products must be in accordance with the country's environmental standards for solid and liquid waste treatment," he said.

Deputy Minister of Transport, Nguyen Van Cong said that the ministry requested the addition of detailed regulations regarding the conditions for the import and demolition of used ships.

"Enterprises engaged in these activities must satisfy all conditions regarding capacity, experience and environmental protection," he said.

The ministries of transport and natural resources and environment have set criteria for ships which could be imported and Vietnamese enterprises that are permitted to do so. — VNS