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Granting permission for scrap vessel Onyx to leave did not breach Finland's international obligations

Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin takes the view that the Finnish authorities did not act unlawfully when they granted permission for the vessel Onyx to depart from Finland; the Onyx set sail from Vaasa bound for Turkey in 2009.

However, she notes that the case shows that the monitoring mechanisms in the international agreements and in the EU Regulation on Shipments of Waste can be easily circumvented.

Indeed, the Deputy-Ombudsman considers it important that the Council of State (Government) works effectively to ensure the implementation in the EU and internationally of a high standard of ship breaking and management of the wastes generated when ships are broken up.

The U.S. citizen who made the complaint concerning the matter criticised especially the former Minister of the Environment Paula Lehtomäki, the Finnish Maritime Administration and the Finnish Environment Institute for the fact that a prohibition on moving the vessel, which had been in Vaasa harbour, was lifted and permission for it to depart was granted.
 
In his view, Finland had been in breach of the EU Regulation on Shipments of Waste and the Basel Convention, which applies to transboundary movement of hazardous wastes.

The old Fennia became a problem ship

The vessel had originally been in service as the car ferry Fennia between Finland and Sweden. It had been in Vaasa harbour for a couple of years when it was purchased in 2007 by a company, registered in the Caribbean, that is known to operate in the ship-breaking sector.

The Finnish Environment Institute (Syke) imposed a ban on moving the vessel, because it suspected that it would be taken outside Europe to be scrapped in inappropriate circumstances.

In 2009 Syke rescinded the ban when the owner declared that the vessel would be used for freight purposes.

The vessel, renamed Onyx, departed for Turkey and the vicissitudes of its voyage were followed closely in the media. It was eventually found, under the name Kaptain Boris, in the United Arab Emirates; it had changed owners and was now registered in Sierra Leone.

In May 2010 the vessel was suspected of having been run aground on Gadani Beach, a major ship-breaking yard in Pakistan.

 

Ship breaking violates human rights

Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin notes that the complaint relates to ship breaking operations, which have been found to involve several grave violations of human rights and despoliation of the environment. The case demonstrated also that, where ships are concerned, both international conventions and the monitoring mechanisms in the EU Regulation on Shipments of Waste can be easily circumvented.

However, she does not take the view that Minister Lehtomäki acted unlawfully or neglected her duty, because Syke was the competent authority in the matter.

Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin stresses, however, that the Constitution requires the public authorities to safeguard implementation of fundamental rights and human rights.

"In my view, the Minister should try to avail herself actively of her political opportunities for action to prevent possible violations of human rights and despoliation of the environment when the powers of the administration within the sphere of competence of the Ministry she heads prove inadequate."

Permission to depart granted by the Finnish Maritime Administration

On the basis of the reports she received, the Deputy-Ombudsman found no ground to criticise the Finnish Maritime Administration for its action in the matter, either.

The Finnish Maritime Administration's Gulf of Bothnia inspection unit conducted a Port State Control of the vessel and found 17 features that it deemed unsatisfactory. The vessel was granted permission to leave when 16 of these defects had been put right.

According to a report received from the Finnish Transport Safety Agency, the inspection had revealed no defects that would have warranted refusing permission for the vessel to sail. The intention was to repair the vessel?s main engine in Turkey.

New convention covers a vessel's life span

Deputy-Ombudsman Sakslin considers it important that the Council of State (Government) and the parliament of Finland, support the draft Regulation on recycling of ships issued by the EU Commission last year; its purpose is to speedily meet the obligations imposed under the Hong Kong Convention throughout the EU.

The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted in 2009. In principle, the Convention covers a vessel's full life span from building to dismantling.

The intention with the Convention is to try and ensure that dangerous substances are not used in ship structures or that at least they are removed before demolition and that ship-breaking yards and the conditions in them are appropriate from the perspectives of both working conditions and health and the environment.

 

The full text of the decision (dnro 4543/2010) by Deputy-Ombudsman Maija Sakslin is published (in Finnish and Swedish) on the Ombudsman's web site oikeusasiamies.fi

Additional info will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Erkki Hännikäinen, tel. + 358 (0)9 432 3354.