Press Release - New Zealand Side-stepping its International Legal Obligations

The Royal New Zealand Navy tweeted recently:

“Farewell old friend. … [HMNZS Endeavour is] the first Western Government-owned Naval ship to be recycled in Alang, India under the Basel Convention on Ship Recycling, ensuring it's done environmentally.”

To say that this is disingenuous would be putting it mildly.

What we know is this: Driving a 7000 tonne, 138 metre long, 30 year old piece of rusting metal at full speed onto a beach in Southern India, where it will be torn apart by teams of men and children working without any safety protections – and without pay – is not recycling.

It’s well known that the shipbreaking yards in Alang are renowned for their brutal working conditions. The shipyards are divided into 200 privately owned lots. Each lot owner bids for the right to break down an old vessel and sell the scrap. This is a race to the bottom, where each lot owner takes advantage of India’s loose environmental and labour laws to reduce their costs and maximise their profits.

All this is regulated by international law – in theory. However, presumably so as to ease the passage of the Endeavour from active service to scrap metal, we have found out that the HMNZS Endeavour has been sold for cash to a Singaporean-registered company called Ace Ship Recycling, who have reflagged it to Niue – a country known as being a “flag of convenience” also used by the North Korean fleet.

Having the Endeavour reflagged from New Zealand to Niue allows New Zealand to sidestep its obligations under international law with respect to the end-of-life process of the vessel. Niue is not a party to the various pieces of international law which regulate the scrapping of ships, and prohibit the use of forced labour.

By selling the boat to a company like this, New Zealand is trying to shield itself from responsibility. Ace Ship Recycling has in turn done a deal with JRD Industries – one of the shipbrokers in Alang.

It seems obvious that New Zealand is trying to maintain its “clean and green” image at the expense of other countries like India and Niue. This is industrial-scale littering far from “tidy kiwi” behaviour. This should be immediately obvious to the navy, had they done their due diligence. The question raised is this: is the New Zealand navy incompetent, or complicit?

The navy has said that they have investigated JRD Industries, and are satisfied that they are the right company to break down the Endeavour. If the navy thinks this, then they should also be happy to have an external auditor follow the scrapping of the boat.

Slave Free Seas is a New Zealand-based charity which has been working for a number of years to hold the New Zealand government accountable for human rights and environmental abuses committed in its territory. What we want is simple – for the New Zealand government to uphold its international legal commitments, and treat people and the environment with the respect they deserve.

We have been closely following the case of the HMNZS Endeavour, and working to uncover the full details of the story. Unsurprisingly, the navy has not been forthcoming with details. Official Information Act requests have been met with legalistic and unhelpful responses.

The only way that this story can be uncovered is for a team of investigating human rights lawyers to travel to Alang to meet the Endeavour as it arrives.

Slave Free Seas is now fundraising in order to make this happen, and to hold the New Zealand navy accountable.