The title of the 1960s worldwide hit song recorded by Neil Sedaka seems appropriate to our next story concerning the disposal of warships. Living in an age of global consumerism we daily observe abuse of precious resources and the adverse impact this has on our environment. As a means of placing limits upon the use of resources, environmental controls become more restrictive and naval services must acknowledge these developments and factor them into lifecycle models.
Our navy’s most conspicuous assets are its ships; with inbuilt obsolescence these have a lifecycle of about 25 years. In days gone by little thought was given to their disposal. Some ships were sold or gifted to friendly neighbours but most were stripped of useful materials, became hulks and eventually sank and/or wasted away in forlorn estuaries. In more recent times obsolete ships have gone through a production line process drawn up on Bangladeshi beaches by men desperate for work, performing dangerous tasks in cutting-up materials into recyclable components. This unregulated market has health and security issues and causes pollution. Accordingly more sophisticated means are being sought for ship disposal. While these methods increase costs they are environmentally sound, reduce pollution and demonstrate that nearly all materials are effectively recycled.
Until the 1960s ship breaking was concentrated in industrial countries, mainly the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy. But since then it has gravitated towards countries with low labour rates and less stringent environmental controls. For the calendar year 2015 latest statistics indicate that out of 768 commercial ships recycled globally 469 were scrapped on beaches of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, representing 74% of the gross tonnage. However, with government subsidies a substantial ship recycling market is now growing in China and Turkey, which have better environmental controls.
An informative documentary was aired on Britain’s Forces TV News Channel on ‘How to Scrap a Warship’ with permission sought to summarise this material.
How to Scrap a Warship
In recent years a number of former Royal Navy warships have made their final journey ahead of being dismantled. In 2012, the Ministry of Defence announced the ‘difficult but necessary’ decision that former flagship HMS Ark Royal would be sold for scrapfor around £3 million. A year earlier, HMS Invinciblehad met the same fate. In August 2015, meanwhile, HMS Edinburghset sail for the final time, to be dismantled in Turkey. And we’ve seen some surprising outcomes – an Indian company is now making motorbikes out of scrap from the former aircraft carrier INS Vikrant.
But have you ever wondered how the mammoth task is taken on? Commissioned in 1988 by Princess Diana, the 5,300 ton Type 22 frigate HMS Cornwall undertook duties across the world during her time in service, including being part of the Royal Navy Task Force involved in the invasion of Afghanistan. After being decommissioned in June 2011, she was put up for sale in 2013, and sold to the UK company Swansea Drydocks for demolition in summer of that year. She was towed from Portsmouth to Swansea in October.
Upon arrival she was secured on a wet berth and steps were taken to ensure security as well as the upkeep of environmental and health and safety controls. She was to stay in the wet berth repair area until May 2014. During this time holes were cut in the side of the vessel to allow materials to be removed.
Electronics and items of interest to other navies were catalogued and documented to help attract potential buyers. Over 200 tonnes of items like davit cranes, the anchor and chain, lights and doors were sold for further use.
Metals not containing iron were removed: In May the hard strip and recycling began in dry dock, with the main foremast the first piece removed:The propeller, once removed, was completely stripped down to reveal all of its component parts. Each ‘petal’ weighed approximately 800 kg.
By June, dismantling of the forward structure had begun: In the dry dock Cornwall was set on blocks for stability bracing and shoring:By July recycling of the sonar dome had begun. The sonar array was removed from inside the dome in one piece. It weighed 15 tonnes and consisted of 64 transducers that yielded over 7.8 tonnes of non-ferrous metal. Surprisingly, 182 tonnes of lead ballast was removed.
The final pieces of HMS Cornwall were removed from dry dock on 30 October 2014,a year to the day of her arrival.Thorough cleaning of the dock was then undertaken prior to re-flooding in preparation for the next ship arrival.
You can take a look at the final statistics below:
|Materials recovered (all figures in Tonnes)||Expected||Actual||Destination|
|Final Destination||Tonnes||Percentage of total|
|Sold or Recycled||3,616.60||94%|
So there we have it – Breaking up is Hard to Do – but as this example demonstrates in respect to ship disposal, with careful planning it can be achieved with excellent results. In another successful attempt at recycling in Britain they are using redundant dry-docks as ship breaking facilities. Does Australia still possess any such facilities?
Scientists from the College of Transport and Communications at Shanghai Maritime University have postulated a better understanding is needed of the links between nature, economy and society. In particular in the maritime environment the environmental problems stemming from air borne pollution caused by ships using low-grade marine fuel oils, expanding harbours necessary to accommodate ships of ever increasing size destroying coastal ecosystems and, finally the scrapping of obsolete vessels polluting seas and soils and endangering workers’ health, especially in the developing world (1).
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) which regulates international shipping with concerns about energy efficiency and pollution has brought into effect the International Convention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) with air-pollution limits for shipping adopted in 1997, which came into force in 2005. The IMO has produced an Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) encouraging owners of merchant ships to reduce their carbon footprint. The development of marine engines is now influenced by this index, while warships are presently excluded from the index this is being questioned. As an incentive a number of major ports are now offering reductions in port dues according to a vessels EEDI score.
Ship scrapping can lead to heavy pollution through the release of many toxic materials. The European Union has required ships registered within its jurisdiction to be broken up in licensed yards that meet strict guidelines. However a ship’s registration can be easily changed to circumvent these regulations with demolition taking place in a country with a more lax approach to labour and environmental protection. The IMO adopted the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safety & Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships in 2009. However as of early 2016 only France, Norway and Congo have accepted this convention.
While the disposal of obsolete ships is a necessary part of their operating cycle, ship breaking also follows a cyclic pattern. With high mineral prices, processed metal becomes expensive, and during these times the scrap metal industry is lucrative. At present with an oversupply of materials, metals prices have declined, as a result ship breakers are reluctant to purchase more stock. This again poses further problems for those seeking disposal of obsolete vessels.
An Australian Policy and Initiatives
There is an RAN environmental policy which states the RAN accepts its environmental obligations for obsolete vessels. The primary aim is disposal of de-commissioned warships by finding an ongoing role for the vessel with a new owner. If this is not possible, the ship will likely be scrapped, sunk as a dive wreck, or gifted to a museum. A more detailed explanation is provided in Defence Instruction (General) DI(G) LOG 4-3-008 which only refers to planning for disposal to be considered in life cycle costing with provision made for disposal.
A more informative statistic comes from a Clean Up Australia Factsheet of November 2009 on recycling metals which can mostly be recycled indefinitely. This reminds us of a few simple facts:
Recycling steel requires 80% less energy than using raw materials.
One tonne (1,000 kg) of steel recycled saves:
1,131 kg of iron ore, 633 kg of coal and 54 kg of limestone.
In putting policy into practice the RAN’s final three landing craft ex-HMA Ships Balikpapan, Betano and Wewak were handed over to the Philippines Navy at a ceremony held at Darwin in March this year. They will be sealifted to their new home where they will be refitted before entering upon a further stage in their long and venturesome lives.
On 12 April 2016 the Minister for Defence, the Honorable Marise Payne, announced that the decommissioned vessels, ex-HMA Ships Tobruk and Sydney, will be offered to the States and Territories for the creation of dive wrecks. The Minister said: ‘There are significant challenges with preparing ex-Navy vessels for dive wrecks to assure the safety of recreational divers, however I appreciate the tourism and economic benefits that the creation of a dive wreck can have to local communities’. Defence authorities will schedule inspection of the vessels in June 2016.
Merchant ship experience in difficult conditions
MV Baltic Ace was a 24,000 gross registered ton Bahamian-flagged car carrier loaded with 1,400 vehicles which sank on 5 December 2012 off the Dutch coast after colliding with the Cyprus-registered container ship Corvos J (2). Although extensively damaged the latter ship survived the collision and helped in the search for survivors.
Within 15 minutes of the incident Baltic Ace capsized and sank in shallow water of 35 meters about 50 km off the coast near the large port of Rotterdam on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Eleven of her 24-person crew died or remain missing.
With potential dangers to shipping, in March 2014 the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment awarded a contract to Royal Boskalis Westminster and its partner Mammoet for the removal of the wreck. Owing to potential winter storms recovery operations could only be conducted between March and October. Following the removal of 540 tonnes of solidified fuel oil, which had to be heated before it could be pumped clear, using a specially designed wire cutting system the vessel was precisely sliced into eight sections which were then raised from the seabed onto barges and towed inshore. Divers then scoured the seabed for any remaining debris. The total recovery of the wreck was completed in September 2015. Most of the materials, totaling over 13,000 tonnes, were successfully sorted and recycled.
Environmental concerns and more demanding regulations are causing naval and merchant ship owners to implement plans which include recycling of materials on the disposal of obsolete vessels. From the above examples concerning Cornwall and MV Baltic Ace there appears to be ample evidence that successful recycling of ships is possible even under difficult conditions. It will be interesting to see what fate awaits the disposal of older, larger and possibly less attractive vessels in the RAN inventory.
- Zheng Wan, Three steps to a green shipping industry, The International Weekly Journal of Science, Vol 530 Issue 7590, 18 February 2016, pp 275-277.
- Details of wreck removal of MV Baltic Ave can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/embed/pva5NwCwwGk