The laws regulating ship recycling — commonly referred to as “shipbreaking” — in Canada have been the source of much confusion for many in the shipping industry. As there is no single piece of all-encompassing legislation that addresses ship recycling in Canada, parties are forced to scour through multiple, often complicated acts and regulations for guidance. This is especially true with respect to the export of end-of-life ships that contain “hazardous waste” — an amorphous and evolving term, both in Canada and abroad.
At the centre of our domestic laws and regulations governing the movement of hazardous waste is the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (the “Convention”), which is an international treaty designed to control and prevent the movement of hazardous waste between nations. The Convention came into force on May 5, 1992, after an emergence of environmental awareness and tightening of environmental regulations in the 1970s and 1980s. During that period, a number of incidents also drew attention to the need for more sustained efforts to regulate the transboundary movement of hazardous waste — one of which was the Khian Sea waste disposal incident, where thousands of tons of ash from waste incinerators in the U.S. was dumped on a beach in Haiti, as “topsoil fertilizer.” After being alerted to the illegal disposal of hazardous waste, the Haitian government ordered the crew of the Khian Sea to reload the ash. Unfortunately, the ship managed to escape and the remaining 10,000 tons of ash was dumped in the Indian Ocean.
The Convention sought to prevent incidents like the Khian Sea by establishing a set of very stringent requirements for notice, consent and tracking of movement of waste across national boundaries, binding upon all parties to the Convention. Canada ratified the Convention shortly after it came into force and has since enacted several pieces of domestic legislation in order to meet its treaty obligations, including the Export and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations (the “Export Regulations”), promulgated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and others such as the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and Regulations and the PCB Waste Export Regulations. This legislation can be quite difficult to navigate and, particularly for those engaged in the ship recycling industry, it is not always clear whether certain end-of-life ships are classified as “waste” under Canadian law.