Shipbreaking is a highly-polluting manner of recycling parts from end-of-life ships by a technique known as “beaching,” wherein workers drive ships onto sandy beaches for dismantling.  Typically, developed countries conduct shipbreaking activities on the shores of developing countries, particularly Bangledesh, India, and Pakistan.  Hazardous chemicals such as asbestos, PCBs, and heavy metals are released during the ship’s dismantling and endanger both the environment and the personnel – often migrant workers – who are involved in the process. Moreover, since companies rarely clean end-of-life ships prior to shipbreaking, the ships often also exude toxic oils directly into the ocean.

In May 2009, over 100 NGOs united behind the NGO Shipbreaking Platform to denunciate the Hong Kong Convention’s acceptance of ongoing shipbreaking practices.  

CIEL’s April 2011 Report entitled “Shipbreaking and the Basel Convention: Analysis of the Level of Control Established under the Hong Kong Convention” analyzed whether the Hong Kong Convention provides an equivalent level of control over shipbreaking as the Basel Convention.  Though the hazardous waste generated by shipbreaking activities and the end-of-life ships themselves are currently regulated under the Basel Convention, CIEL’s Report found that the Hong Kong Convention failed to provide an equivalent level of control. This was because the scope of the Hong Kong Convention: was far narrower in its coverage of waste; failed to adopt the prior, informed consent mechanism that is essential to Basel; failed to prohibit the practice of beaching; and failed to address the need for the minimization of the transboundary movement of waste through greater national self-sufficiency in waste management. Moreover, the Hong Kong Convention did not sufficiently: address the lack of capacity of developing countries to properly recycle the ships; failed to explicitly authorize countries to ban the importation of waste; and failed to require the exporting state to re-import ships that are in violation of the Convention.

CIEL analysis of the Hong Kong Convention aimed to thwart legal loopholes used by the European Union regarding hazardous waste shipments, support legal action in affected areas of South Asia, and advocate for an increase in the need for further chemical safety treaties.  In October 2011, the majority of participants in the Basel Convention officially determined the Hong Kong Convention does not protect people or communities from the dangers of shipbreaking as adequately as the protocols of the Basel Convention.