NGOs warn of high toxic substances in tanker bound for shipbreaking

According to the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, the highly toxic Floating Storage and Offloading (FSO) tanker J. NAT is currently being towed from Indonesia towards the shipbreaking beach of Chattogram, Bangladesh. The FSO J. NAT left Indonesian waters on 18 April even though local activists warned Indonesian authorities about the toxicity of the vessel.  

Official documents indicate that the tanker has more than 1,500 tons of hazardous waste from the oil extraction process onboard, including 1,000 tons of slop oil, 500 tons of oily water and 60 tons of sludge oil contaminated with high concentration of mercury.  The J. NAT likely also contains high amounts of mercury in its structures, as well as in ballast waters. 

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, Basel Action Network (BAN), European Environmental Bureau (EEB), IPEN, Nexus3 Foundation and Zero Mercury Working Group have warned Bangladesh officials of the breach of international waste laws, and urged them to halt the import of the contaminated ship.  Ignoring illegal acts risks exposing the workers to severe harm and polluting the environment of Bangladesh. 

Ingvild Jenssen, Executive Director and Founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, says: “In addition to the hazardous materials typically found on conventional ships, oil and gas structures, such as the J. NAT, are often contaminated by mercury.  Mercury is a naturally occurring element present in virtually all oil and gas fields.  Concentrations are especially high in the South American and East Asian regions.”

Given the likely high concentrations of mercury in the steel hull of the FSO J. NAT and the blow torch method used to cut vessels, there is a high risk of inhalation of mercury vapor.  Mercury is an extremely toxic metal.  Exposure to mercury, even at low levels, has been linked to central nervous system damage, kidney and liver impairment, reproductive and developmental disorders, defects in fetuses and learning deficits. 

In a recent court judgment on the illegal import of another oil and gas unit, Maersk’s FPSO NORTH SEA PRODUCER, the Bangladesh Supreme Court denounced the fraudulent documents claiming that the vessel was toxic-free when it in fact was contaminated by radioactive substances.  The Court called for full transparency on the hazardous materials onboard end-of-life vessels imported to Bangladesh.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Supreme Court lawyer and Director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, says: “In light of the recent judgment on the North Sea Producer, there is no scope to give any authorization for import, beaching, and breaking of the J. NAT.  It is public knowledge that Bangladesh will not be able to deal with the hazardous waste flow downstream.  The vessel will simply flood our shores with toxic substances and expose our workers to deadly risks.”

Image credit: Bayazid Akter / Shutterstock.com

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