The Dutch Public Prosecution Service has brought criminal charges against Groningen-based owner Seatrade for having sold vessels to scrap yards in countries with poor working conditions and substandard environmental practices.
This is the first time in Europe that criminal charges were raised against a shipowner for beaching vessels.
According to the prosecution office, the Seatrade Group is facing fines of up to EUR 2.35 million (around USD 2.9 million) for breaking up ships on beaches in Bangladesh, India and Turkey in violation of the European Waste Shipment Regulations.
In addition, the Dutch Public Prosecutor calls for confiscation of the profits Seatrade made on the illegal sale of four ships, those being Spring Panda, Spring Bob, Spring Bear and Spring Deli.
A six-month prison sentence for three of Seatrade’s top executives is also being requested.
All four vessels departed on their last voyage to the breaking yards from the ports of Rotterdam and Hamburg in the spring of 2012.
Ships sailing to their final destination on their own contain large quantities of hazardous substances such as bunker oil, lubricating oil, PCBs and asbestos.
Since the ships in question are refrigerated vessels, they also contain HCFCs.
As these hazardous substances were not removed from the ships their sale to India, Bangladesh and Turkey was illegal, the prosecution office said.
The two 1984-built reefers, Spring Bear and Spring Bob ended up at Indian and Bangladeshi breakers respectively.
The 1984-built Spring Panda and Spring Deli were demolished at shipyards in Turkey.
Breaking yards in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India are notorious for their dangerous working conditions, especially with respect to the removal of hazardous waste as these yards don’t have the required facilities, meaning that chemical waste, including asbestos, is often dumped at the site.
Seatrade sold the ships via the company Baltic Union Shipbrokers to cash-buyer GMS, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said.
However, it has later been determined that another cash buyer was behind the purchase, as GMS vehemently opposed the allegations.
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.
Seatrade knowingly sold the vessels for dirty and dangerous breaking in order to maximize profits which further aggravates the charge, the prosecutor claimed.
“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,” Ingvild Jenssen, Founder and Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, said.
“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, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said.
The case is being heard in a Rotterdam Court this week.