Green Ships

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Every year, hundreds of ships make their final voyage from the high seas to the recycling yards where workers dismantle them for metal and other reusable components. These ships tend to have been deemed unsafe, their "steel [structures] fatigued from...trans-ocean voyages." Due to the high cost of repairs and modifications, "ship owners find it more profitable to recycle [a ship] after about 20 years" than to further extend its life. Furthermore, finding cargo for older ships can prove difficult, if not impossible, due to insurance companies’ refusal to provide insurance coverage on cargo-booked ships over 20 years old. Asia hosts the majority of the world’s ship recyclers. Together, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and China recycle "approximately 89% of light displacement tons scrapped worldwide."[1] Ship recycling costs are comparatively higher in the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA) than in Asia because of strict regulations relating to environmental issues and occupational safety and health issues. Thus, ship-recycling facilities in the EU and the USA have difficulty competing with their Asian rivals.[2] Greenpeace, the GMB union and Peter Mandelson (the MP for Hartlepool) joined forces yesterday to urge the British government to scrap all of Britain's redundant warships at home instead of allowing the work to be done on beaches in southeast Asia. (Vidal) While recycling ships is an excellent way to reuse and save materials for future use, especially in developing countries, the toxic materials applied to the ships can be extremely dangerous if not treated and handled safely.

Toxins: Health and Environmental Concerns


Specifically, Tributyltin (TBT) is a highly toxic substance used in the anti-fouling paints applied to the hulls of ships. “Fouling” is the attachment of marine organisms to ship hulls. TBT, which made its first appearance in anti-fouling paints in the 1950’s, presents a danger to both marine life and to humans. Its basic substance, tin, replaced copper, which was a normal additive at the time. Effective for a longer time period than copper due to its slow degradation in water, tin makes for a more durable paint, but is also more poisonous.[3]

Following two paragraphs - need subject matter clarification to improve accuracy The TBT-based anti-fouling paints prove very effective in preventing organisms from attaching to ship hulls. Possibly more notably, the paint poisons organisms attached to the hull, leading them to detach and float vulnerably in the water where they become easy targets for predators. An endocrine disrupting chemical, TBT can cause severe reproductive defects in aquatic organisms (tightly regulated in developed nations). [1] In particular, TBT compounds pose the greatest risk to "Gram-positive bacteria, fish algae, mussels, mollusks and fungi."[4] A study by Wu et al. conducted on the Puget Sound in Washington state assessed TBT contamination and found links between mollusk health and high levels of TBT. Wu et al. discovered the worst contamination at the Anacortes shipyard and at a site 1.3 km away. Subsequently, they found that high levels of TBT in the sediment had physically altered mollusks in these locations. On shores near the shipyards and harbors of the Port of Seattle, mollusks had high imposex scores. It is true that the Port of Seattle has a large number of shipyards and harbors, but many other harbors were also found to have TBT contaminated sediment. "Chemical and biological measures were at background levels...within less than 2 km…[of] the shipyard in Anacortes and less than 8km…[of] the Port of Seattle." TBT levels spike sharply where ships frequently anchor. When a ship is close to shore and anchors (as in a harbor), the ship's hull rubs against the sediment. Thus, it is no surprise that the most severely contaminated sites were commercial harbors and shipyards.[5]

TBT also impacts the environment during the ship-building and ship-recycling processes. Even extremely low concentrations of TBT greatly affect marine organisms. 1 nanogram of TBT caused imposex and intersex on snails. In order to control the leaching of TBT from active ships and during the ship-breaking process, ship builders and recyclers will need to invoke environmentally-sound anti-fouling systems. At this point, little or no reduction of TBT concentrations has been seen in sediments, even after several years of TBT prohibition.[4]

Contaminated marine life that detaches from ship hulls becomes nourishment for other sea animals and for humans. This can cause adverse health effects as TBT travels up the food chain. Consumption of contaminated seafood by humans has been known to cause severe skin and mucous membrane irritation.[4]

Although many countries have banned the use of TBT due to its dangerous effects on environmental and aquatic life, many countries lack strict or clear guidelines on the use of TBT. Faced with the lack of international TBT restrictions and the increased recognition of the problems associated with TBT, several countries implemented national legislation to limit the use of TBT in the mid-1980’s. With TBT concentrations in water and sediment at alarmingly high levels (mainly from pollution from ships flying non-Japanese flags), Japan imposed an international ban on TBT anti-fouling. After 1988, state action was unnecessary to prohibit the use of TBT, which most likely accounts for the lack of TBT-specific legislation in the other states. Furthermore, because anti-fouling paints are generally considered pesticides subject to regulation under a state’s generic pesticide laws, specific legislation banning TBT may be considered redundant in some states. Although TBT paints more expensive, economic effects and arguments did not stop the quick change.[3]

Despite the efforts of Japan and some other nations, TBT-painted boats remained in use in 2003. In 2004, TBT self-polishing copolymer paints acted as a covering for 70-80% of the world’s ships.[4] Nevertheless, this ban did not take effect until much later, and even then, it did not apply to all countries. Thus, countries not regulated by national or regional legislation could continue to use organotin compounds, specifically in national routes.

Polychlorinated Biphenyl's (PCB)

Polychlorinated Biphenyl’s (PCB’s) pose a threat to human health, both while in use and during their disposal process. "Found in ship electrical components, cables, vent ducts,… misc[ellaneous] gaskets," insulation materials, adhesives, paint, and various rubber and plastic components,[1]PCB's must be appropriately handled to ensure environmental and human safety. Exposure to PCB’s has been linked with the development of various cancers as well as with disruptions to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems.[1] As with TBT, PCB's adversely affect human health through direct contact as well as through ingestion of contaminated marine life. "The most carcinogenic PCB’s tend to build the flesh of fish and other animals," and people who eat contaminated fish face an even greater health threat than the workers of the shipwrecking industry.[1] To protect environmental health, PCB’s must be properly incinerated or stored in special landfills where they will not leach into groundwater. The easiest action might seem to be discontinuing the use of PCB’s. However, the need for PCB’s will not cease without a viable alternative. PCB’s are currently used for "high heat resistance, inflammability, chemical stability, and high boiling point."[1]


Lead poses a severe health risk to humans. Despite its known dangers, it continues to be used in the manufacture of vessels. Lead "is...found in batteries, paints, components of motors, generators, piping, and cables." When ingested by children, lead can cause "learning difficulties,...[intellectual and developmental disability,] and delayed neurological and physical development. "In adults, lead affects the nervous system, impairing hearing, vision, and muscle coordination."[1]

Bilge Water

Bilge water is an oily waste of liquids and toxic substances that accumulates in the bottom of a ship’s hull. It may contain oil, cargo residues, inorganic salts, arsenic, copper, chromium, lead, and mercury. "During the ship mothballing or dismantling process, [the quantity of] bilge water increases" due to pooled rainwater and cooling and containment water. Furthermore, during the shipwrecking process, toxins often spill into the ocean, threatening the overall health and survival prospects of many organisms.[1]


Asbestos, a historically popular building material, also presents a human health hazard. Despite increased restrictions on new ships, the insulation of old ships often contains asbestos. Inhalation of these fibers is associated with both lung disease and multiple kinds of cancer.[1] In fact, "asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs, chest cavity, and abdomen."[1]


See also Green Ships: Green Ship Countries

Unfortunately, ship-breaking sites often concern themselves more with the profitability of the steel and ship parts than with the safety of the ship-breaking process. Subsequently, occupational safety and health issues emerge—particularly in association with the dismantling of beached ships in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. These issues include exposure to harmful toxins, the danger of heavy, falling parts, and the difficulty of using dangerous tools. Ship-recycling "workers in these countries do not wear protective equipment such as helmets, masks, or goggles"; sites do not post danger signs.[2] In addition to the lack of safety equipment, there is no training to educate workers about the potential harms involved with ship-breaking operations (Alang, India). The majority of workers have no training in using blowtorches or in handling the hazardous substances involved in ship recycling.[2] For that reason, it is not uncommon for them to suffer major accidents. Moreover, workers risk inhaling noxious substances throughout the ship-breaking process. "Toxic fumes are released during the blowtorch-cutting process, and afterward while the paint and coatings may continue to smolder."[2] The use in ship breaking in developing countries is especially harmful in terms of child labor laws due to lack of guidelines in Bangladesh.


Many ships contain hazardous substances that can cause harm to the environment. Carcinogenic and toxic substances such as "Polychlorinated Biphenyls ("PCBs"), asbestos, tributanlytin ("TBT"), lead, oil, and bilge water" are often released directly into the ocean.[1]

Delete after section about TBT is clarified Though the use of TBT base anti-fouling paints have long been banned, the lingering effects of TBT are vry dangerous. Sediment contamination still in effect and endangers marine and estuarine quality of environment.[4] Many studies have discovered an existence of TBT in commonly used waterways and a large presence of TBT in the sediment near ports. Typically, navigation channels show low levels of TBT compared to sediments in harbor locations, specifically close to dockyards.[4] The use of TBT was to discourage the adhesion of marine life to the ship's hull, suggestively to preserve the lifetime of the marine organisms. Marine biofouling defined as undesirable accumulation of marine organisms on solid surfaces, i.e. ships hull or mechanical equipment, immersed in seawater.[4] No matter the reasoning behind the application of TBT, the lasting effects, regardless of how minimal, are gravely destructive to the environment. Extremely low concentrations of TBT still greatly affect marine organisms.[4] 1ng of TBT cause imposex and intersex on snails.[4] In order to control the exposure of TBT within the sediment and during the ship-breaking process, many different environmentally safe processes will need to be invoked. In ports, TBT is released to marine environment via ship hulls and only measure to prevent is replace with environmental friendly antifouling systems.[4] Although, little or no reduction of TBT concentrations were seen in sediments even after several years after TBT prohibition.[4]

Ship breaking Regulations

Further information: Current Ship Breaking Regulations

Green Ship Countries

Further information: Countries

Alternative Solutions

Further information: Proposed Green Ship Recycling Options


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Dodds, D. (2007). Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Environmental Effects of Shipwrecking and Possible Solutions Under India’s Environmental Regime. 20 Pac. McGeorge Global Bus. and Dev. L.J., 207, 208-236.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Chang, Y., N. Wang & O.S. Durak. (2010). Ship recycling and marine pollution. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60, 1390-1396.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Gipperth, L. (2009). The legal design of the international and European Union ban on tributyltin antifouling paint: Direct and indirect effects. Journal of Environmental Management, 90, S86-S95.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Stichnothe, H., W. Calmano, E. Arevalo, A. Keller & J. Thöming. (2005). TBT-contaminated Sediments: Treatment in a Pilot Scale. Journal of Soils and Sediments, 5(1), 21-29.
  5. Evans, S.M., N. Barnes, A. C. Birchenough , M. S. Brancato & E. Hardman. (2001). Tributyltin contamination in two estuaries and adjacent ocean coasts: Puget Sound, Washington, and Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island (USA). Invertebrate Reproduction & Development, 39(3), 221-229. DOI:10.1080/07924259.2001.9652486