16 August of last year the FPSO North Sea Producer was beached in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The ship was allowed to leave the UK based on the false promise that it would be further operationally used in the Tin Can port in Nigeria.
One year on, the battle to hold the owners and cash buyers accountable for the illegal export of the FPSO is not over.
The North Sea Producer (ex Dagmar Maersk) was deployed in the McCulloch field in the North Sea, transporting and extracting oil from
the UK continental shelf for 17 years, and was owned by the North Sea Production Company, a single-ship joint venture between the Danish A.P. Moeller Maersk and the Brazilian Odebrecht. Once the field closed, the FPSO North Sea Producer was laid up in Teesport for a year while the owners were looking for buyers.
For scrapping purposes the ship was only allowed to be sold to a facility within the OECD as any export of hazardous waste outside the OECD is in breach of International and EU law. However, selling the FPSO to a recycler that could safely handle all the hazards of the ship within the OECD would have meant that the owners would not have made as big a profit as selling it to less scrupulous breakers operating on tidal beaches in South Asia.
Maersk and Odebrecht thus settled to sell the ship to the largest vessels’ scrap dealer, cash buyer GMS, through a St. Kitts and Nevis post box company called Conquistador Shipping Corporation, and provided the UK authorities with a false contract stating that the NORTH SEA PRODUCER had found a new owner who would operate the ship in Nigeria.
Despite the vessel being under the radar of local communities in Teesside and was well-known in the shipping industry for needing to be scrapped, the UK authorities relied on the false contract to allow the FPSO to leave on tug.
Once the ship arrived at Janata Steel in Chittagong, and upon alerts issued by local NGOs, the Bangladesh Attorney General of the Department of Environment set up a special committee to determine the presence of contaminated residues, and to investigate the ship’s illegal import due to lack of necessary clearances and false claims that it was hazardous-free. Having operated in the North Sea, the vessel’s pipelines are likely to contain residues contaminated by radioactive materials and sulphur.
Other toxics, such as asbestos and heavy metals, are contained within the structure and paints of the ship. Upon a request from the Platform’s member organisation Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA), the report on the ship’s condition was released in June: it’s conclusion was that radioactive residues were found upon inspection and that further surveys needed to be carried out on the whole ship.
BELA subsequently succeeded in getting an injunction on the breaking of the North Sea Producer until October, which is when the Court will resume the case after the Eid recess.
One year on since the beaching of the FPSO North Sea Producer, the story is thus far from over. One year on and there are legal proceedings in the exporting state, the UK, and the importing state, Bangladesh, to hold Maersk, Odebrecht, GMS and the importers accountable for their illegal trade of a highly toxic and particularly risky ship to dismantle.