Norway fines Altera for beaching two ships in India

Following a raid on Altera’s office four years ago, the Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (Økokrim) issued a fine of NOK 8 million (approx. EUR 700,000) on June 10 to Norwegian shipping company Altera Infrastructure for having sold two vessels for scrapping India.

Økokrim is holding Altera Infrastructure, formerly known as Teekay Offshore, liable for the illegal export of the shuttle tankers NAVION BRITANNIA and ALEXITA SPIRIT. Both tankers were sold to cash buyer Wirana and beached in Alang, India, where they were scrapped under conditions that exposed fragile ecosystems and workers to harm. 

Police attorney Maria Bache Dahl stated that “Økokrim takes a serious view on the export of Norwegian operated end-of-life vessels to developing countries with far weaker legislation and enforcement mechanisms than what exists in Norway”. According to European and international law, hazardous waste, including end-of-life ships, cannot be exported from an EU/EFTA country to a non-OECD country under any circumstances. 

Altera claimed that they had intended to retro-fit the shuttle tankers. However, they sold the NAVION BRITANNIA and ALEXITA SPIRIT, as well as two other shuttle tankers, NORDIC SPIRIT and NAVION MARITA, to cash buyer Wirana, a scrap dealer specialized in the purchase of end-of-life vessels and known as middle-man for the South Asian beaching yards. 

“The shipping industry is well aware that international environmental law, more specifically the UNEP’s Basel Convention, restricts the trade of end-of-life vessels to developing countries. But because scrapping a ship on a tidal mudflat in South Asia is more profitable than doing it in a safe and environmentally sound manner in for example a dry-dock, false accounts of further operational use or repair work are provided to authorities in an attempt to avoid the law. To see that Økokrim, as well as other European enforcement agencies, are not dupe and now hold ship owners accountable for illegal waste trade is encouraging,” says Ingvild Jenssen, Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

Altera, which has two weeks to appeal, is not the first company to face this type of charges. In recent years, several ship owners and individuals have been held liable by European Courts for violating international and European waste laws. 

In 2022, the Norwegian Supreme Court upheld a six-month prison sentence for ship owner Georg Eide, after he attempted to illegally export a vessel for scrapping in Pakistan. Wirana was also the cash buyer in that case and received a fine of NOK 7 million. 

Dutch ship owners, including Seatrade and Jumbo, have paid similar fines, while Maran Tankers settled a compensation claim brought by the wife of a deceased Bangladeshi worker after the UK High Court confirmed that Maran Tankers likely did have an obligation to conduct due diligence when selling ships for scrap, and thus could be held liable for injury and death of workers when notoriously unsafe shipbreaking yards were selected. 

In the summer of 2021, the offices of several Hamburg-based ship owners were raided by the German police, and while investigations are ongoing, the Hamburg Public Prosecutor has pressed charges against three people for ship owner Peter Dohle Schiffahrts’ illegal scrapping of containership CS Discovery in India. In the UK and Iceland, cases involving another notorious cash buyer, GMS, are also still under investigation.

“Whilst enforcement officers are becoming increasingly aware of how the illegal trafficking of waste ships is conducted, it is key that EU policies are reviewed to render the enforcement of hazardous waste trade bans more effective. Existing limitations enabling police only to take action on vessels that either become waste in European waters or sail under an EU flag allow many ship owners to operate in impunity. EU laws should apply to all EU companies,” says Jenssen. 

“The EU has an obligation to handle its own hazardous waste. The development of capacity to recycle vessels off the beach and closer to home, in line with circular economy objectives, would furthermore satisfy the increasing demand for scrap for the production of carbon accounted steel,” she adds.

Photo credit: iStock/ Waldemarus

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