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Matson Agrees to Stop Sending Old Ships to the "Killing Beaches" of South Asia

Environmental Groups Blow Whistle on Ship in Tow from Texas to India

Following an alarm raised by the environmental justice organization Basel Action Network (BAN), the shipping company, Matson, Inc. (MATX) agreed to prohibit scrapping its vessels on the beaches of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in the future. While the decision does not address the HORIZON TRADER – an old Matson vessel now on its way to India, it is significant, as 23 vessels in the Matson fleet will require scrapping in the next few years. 

Meanwhile, BAN and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform in Brussels, call on All Star Metals of Brownsville, Texas, the last holder of HORIZON TRADER, to return the ship to the U.S. for proper recycling in their Brownsville ship recycling yard. 

Shipbreaking practices in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh operate under dangerous and polluting conditions. Workers labor on tidal sands to cut ships by hand, breathe in toxic fumes and asbestos, and fall victim to explosions and accidental crushing. According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), up to 20% of the shipbreaking workforce in Bangladesh are children under the age of 15. Just last week there was an accident on the notorious shipbreaking beach at Chittagong that killed 4 workers. 5 workers were killed in July, adding up to a reported 9 deaths in less than two months, and over 200 deaths documented over the past 5 years. 

"While we regret that one more US ship is likely to end up on the killing beaches of South Asia, we recognize the important commitment Matson has made for future recycling contracts" said Self. "Ship owners today can no longer claim ignorance. They know very well the environmental and human health impacts of their ship recycling decisions, which for too long have been ignored to maximize profits. Matson’s off-the-beach commitment reflects a level of corporate leadership which we hope will be echoed by other U.S. shipping companies.

The HORIZON TRADER, a 42 year-old US flagged container ship was acquired by Matson when they purchased Horizon Lines late last year. A decision was then made to scrap the vessel and it was delivered to the All Star Metals ship recycling facility in Brownsville, Texas in January 2015.

Horizon Trader being towed out of Brownsville, September 2, 2015 to India. Copyright BAN, 2015.

However, instead of being recycled in accordance with U.S. environmental health and safety laws, creating local jobs, the HORIZON TRADER was photographed on September 2nd being towed out of the Port of Brownsville with fresh paint on the ship’s hull masking the true identity of the vessel. The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed to BAN that the HORIZON TRADER was authorized for export to the shipbreaking yards in India. The ship is now in the Caribbean Sea. BAN obtained the original Horizon Lines Memorandum of Agreement for the sale of the HORIZON TRADER, which stipulated that the buyer would responsibly recycle the vessel in the U.S.

BAN then notified Matson and asked the company to recall the ship, and while they claimed they no longer had the authority to recall the ship, they released the following statement:

"Because of concerns with recycling practices in South Asia, Matson has decided to expressly prohibit recycling of its vessels in this region going forward."

The statement is reflective of a growing consensus of ship owners. Already in Europe the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association and its 160 members recently voted to prohibit Norwegian-owned ships to be scrapped on South Asian beaches. This move follows other large foreign ship owners that have also adopted "off-the-beach" ship recycling policies, including Norwegian ship owners Grieg, Wilhelmsen and Høegh, along with German Hapag-Lloyd, Danish Maersk Lines, Royal Dutch Boskalis, Canadian CSL Group, and Singaporean China Navigation Company.

The U.S. government has likewise maintained a long-standing policy that requires its own ships to be recycled domestically and off the beaches. Ironically this stands in stark contrast to the fact that the U.S. government allows private ship-owners to legally reflag their vessels for disposal on foreign shipbreaking beaches.

"While the export may be legal according to U.S. law, it outsources pollution and U.S. jobs to Asia," said Self. "It is highly irresponsible. We ask All Star Metals as a U.S. ship recycling company purporting to be a green ship recycler, to turn the HORIZON TRADER back to Texas for proper recycling.

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