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by Alan Dickey, Lloyd's List

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, 24 June 1999 - Industry, government and environmental groups failed to agree a joint statement at the close of yesterday's self-styled summit to address the escalating calls to clean up the ship scrapping business. The failure to reach an accord at the close of the high ranking Amsterdam meeting will be seen as a blow to efforts to reach a consensus on the contentious issue.

Earlier, Dutch transport minister Tineke Netelenbos described ship scrapping in developing countries as 'a humanitarian and ecological disaster', a statement which angered many delegates at the First Global Ship Scrapping Summit. Sources close to the Dutch Ministry of Transport told Lloyd's List that the minister's speech, in which she spoke provocatively about the slow poisoning of workers, 'beaches black with oil' and the spreading 'ink stain' of pollution, had been the work of an over-enthusiastic ghost writer and were not representative of her department's views. As the event broke for coffee, it had become clear that feelings on the floor were running high.

P S Nagarseth, president of the Iron, Steel, Scrap & Shipbreakers Association of India, said he was shocked at the inaccuracy of some statistical information presented by some speakers. He was especially worried about one estimate which had claimed 360 workers lost their lives in one year on Alang beach alone, a figure he said was hugely exaggerated.

Gerald Cooper, who represents Liberia and its scrapping interests at the IMO in London, said that contentious information circulated at the event by environmentalist organisation Greenpeace was unrepresentative. He said he was worried that a 'don't scrap in Asia' mood was developing.

Conference chairman Professor Niko Wijnolst, having fielded open criticism about the tone of the proceedings from Indian and Liberian delegates, was sympathetic to the concerns and, in particular took one suggestion from the floor directly to heart.

As delegates returned from lunch, the name of the event had been changed to the 1st Global Ship Recycling Summit. In a less contentious speech, Rolf Westfal-Larsen, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping and president of the International Shipping Federation, said the shipping industry was 'socially and environmentally responsible' and had to address the issue seriously.

Favouring the term 'ship recycling' over 'scrapping', Mr Westfal-Larsen said the ICS has established a working group which is adopting a practical and realistic approach to the issue, embracing technology, a recycling inventory, new ship design ideas and closer contact with breakers associations.

Robert Coleman, director-general of the European Commission's DGVII said the standard of safety, health and environmental conditions in ship demolition yards must be raised. But he forecast that the future demand for scrapping would be so high, that new facilities would have to be created. He added that existing legislation, and in particular the Basle Convention, was not drafted with ship scrapping in mind and could be easily circumvented.

In his concluding remarks, chairman Prof Wijnolst acknowledged that delegates had been tackling some 'complex' issues, but said progress had been made. In a statement circulated to all delegates, a number of path-finding points for the future were outlined, including a call for safer working practices, but also funds to back the sector up.

Alongside a call for new scrapping-friendly ship design rules, Prof Wijnolst proposed the creation of a Ship Scrapping Working Group. This could be supported by the Dutch government, which would also seek financial support for the group from other nations.

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