Engineering X – an international collaboration founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Lloyd’s Register Foundation – has awarded nearly £1 million in grants to six projects in the UK and overseas aimed at tackling the complex social, environmental and engineering challenges of decommissioning ships and offshore structures.
From training to improve worker safety in ship recycling facilities in Bangladesh, to assessing the risks of structural failure of decommissioned offshore structures, the projects will tackle priority global safety issues as part of the Engineering X mission to achieve Safer End of Engineered Life.
Safe, modern decommissioning facilities are available around the world but most ships, as well as many offshore structures, reach the end of their operational lives on a handful of poorly equipped beaches in South Asia. The International Labour Organisation has classified shipbreaking among the world’s most dangerous occupations, with unacceptably high levels of fatalities, injuries and work-related disease. The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted in 2009 but has yet to come into force.
In 2019, 674 commercial ships and offshore units were sold to scrap yards, according to Engineering X. Of these vessels, 469 large tankers, bulkers, floating platforms, and cargo and passenger ships were broken down on just three beaches in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, amounting to nearly 90% of the gross tonnage dismantled globally.
The problem of disposing of ageing offshore structures is moving up the global agenda as an increasing number of oil and gas developments are reaching the end of their operational lives. Alongside the current wave of decommissioning from the offshore oil and gas sector, the growing offshore renewable energy industry is setting up new waves of decommissioning activity for the future.
William Powrie FREng, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Southampton and Chair of the board for this Engineering X programme, says: “Achieving a safer end of engineered life for ships and offshore structures is a delicate balancing act. As long as these structures have residual economic value there is an incentive to recycle them. The alternative includes abandonment or deliberate scuttling on a large scale.
“But the challenge of improving safety during decommissioning is not one that can be hidden by displacing the safety risks to parts of the world least able to manage them –the danger to human life, health and the environment arising from current practices is a global problem and is too high. By awarding these grants and through the wider activities of this programme, Engineering X hopes to help all parties progress towards safer and more sustainable solutions that work for all.
“All those with an interest or stake in any stage of the life cycle of ships and offshore structures must understand their role in the processes that give rise to the poor safety record of decommissioning generally. They must also acknowledge a shared responsibility to raise standards and to develop and adopt best practices to improve safety, wherever these structures end their operational lives. It is increasingly in their interests to do so.”
Grants of between £50,000 to £200,000 in value have been awarded to the following projects:
Safety envelope for ship recycling practices in Bangladesh: hazard identification and risk evaluation
Led by Newcastle University in Singapore (Singapore)
To achieve a better understanding of the relationship between ship recycling practices, their hazards and the safety and wellbeing of the people who work in ship dismantling/recycling facilities in Bangladesh.
Safe and sustainable decommissioning of offshore structures taking into consideration the peculiarities of the ASEAN & South Asia Regions
Led by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (Malaysia)
To develop technical guidelines for safe and sustainable decommissioning processes, and develop safe and sustainable recycling facilities and safe downstream waste management facilities for decommissioned offshore structures in ASEAN and South Asia.
The risks of structural failure of decommissioned offshore oil and gas installations worldwide
Led by Energy Institute (UK)
To investigate worldwide the major accident risks associated with the loss of structural integrity of oil and gas platforms during their decommissioning and assess whether the sector has adequate arrangements for managing these risks. Includes an international survey of stakeholders to obtain views on current practice with respect to structural integrity management.
Supporting the Ship Recycling Transparency Initiative
Sustainable Shipping Initiative (UK)
To build on the SRTI’s existing aims to accelerate a voluntary market-driven approach to responsible ship recycling practices. Includes improvements to the SRTI’s online platform through which shipowners can publicly disclose their ship recycling policies, and further development of their disclosure criteria to improve transparency in ship recycling value chains.
Establishing a global baseline and raising awareness to help deliver safety improvements
Led by University of Southampton (UK)
To develop an open access, dynamic and graphical web-dashboard with associated evidential material and reports on a wide range of information including the number, age and location of offshore structures and ships globally, the materials they contain, their legislative contexts and who has ownership and other responsibilities.
Ensuring the rights of communities and workers affected by shipbreaking
Led by NGO Shipbreaking Platform (Belgium)
To increase – in partnership with the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA) – awareness of existing workers’ rights, including occupational health and safety, to support demands for safer working conditions.