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UN convenes meeting to finalize guidelines on safe disposal of obsolete ships

UN convenes meeting to finalize guidelines on safe disposal of obsolete ships

International experts on hazardous waste and shipping joined forces in Geneva today to finalize international guidelines for the environmentally safe dismantling of obsolete ships in an effort welcomed by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which organized the meeting.

"By taking responsibility for the environmental impacts of its expired equipment, the shipping industry is setting a high standard for other industries to emulate," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.

The meeting is being convened under the auspices of a treaty adopted in 1989 to regulate the transportation of toxic cargoes, officially called the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. Mr. Toepfer said the new guidelines "demonstrate once again the vital contribution that the Basel Convention is making to reducing the risks of hazardous wastes."

While attention usually focuses on the toxic cargoes transported by ships, decommissioning a large vessel may itself involve the removal of many tonnes of hazardous wastes, including persistent organic pollutants, mercury, lead and asbestos, according to UNEP. Workers, local communities, biodiversity, groundwater and air are all at risk.

The 89-page guidelines seek to minimize these risks by introducing universally applied principles for the environmentally sound management of ship dismantling. They detail procedures for dismantling obsolete ships, identifying potential contaminants, preventing the release of toxic substances, monitoring environmental impacts, and responding to emergencies and accidents. The guidelines also address the design, construction and operation of ship-dismantling facilities.

The Geneva meeting, which runs through Wednesday, will aim to finalize the guidelines for adoption by the parties to the Basel Convention in 2002.