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Abandonment and recycling of vessels

View profile for Fabiana Martins
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Based on the presentation at the XIV MARITIME LAW WORKSHOP of the Maritime Court (now available on Youtube*)

Cases of abandonment of crews reported to IMO/ILO have risen after COVID and although a direct linkage is considered unclear[i], the data shows that after the outbreak of the pandemic there has been an alarming spike in cases, as we can see from the number of cases reported per year:

In Brazil, and specially in Rio de Janeiro, at Guanabara Bay, there have long been complaints about abandoned vessels and although the numbers reported in the media were not always accurate (sometimes including vessels waiting for berth and not abandoned or under court disputes) the reports from the Navy[ii] shows a considerable number of ships, especially old fishing ships as we learned:

Legal abandonment means the owner giving up all of their rights to the property and may occur either through affirmative action by the owner declaring their intention to abandon the ship (expressly) or their failure to diligently remove it or keep it assisted (tacit).

Authorities and the IMO have produced guidelines on how to deal with abandoned crew and vessels.[iii]

In Brazil, the Law 7542/86, Law 9537/97, and the Maritime Authority Rules – NORMAM 10 regulate the Navy´s role in case a ship needs to be removed after an incident and in any case, it affects the safety of the navigation.

In general, when a ship is removed by authorities worldwide after abandonment, there are a few options to be considered: donation (especially if the ship is still seaworthy), dismantling and recycling, artificial reefing, and ocean disposal.

Ship recycling has being an attractive industry for developing countries and in Brazil, a group of enthusiastic people (including me), are working to improve regulations to facilitate the activity in the country. This is especially considering not only the Brazilian geographical and political vocation to be a regional reference, but also the offshore facilities that will need to be recycled in the near future in the country due to the end of its productivity life cycle.

This scenario together with the increase of average age of world fleet and decrease of world tonnage order to new vessels (due to environmental regulations uncertainty, energy transition and economic and political global instability) puts vessels recycling on the agenda for the next few years in Brazil and especially in Rio de Janeiro.

As said, there is still some homework to do in Brazil regarding regulations and efficiency, but we can already list the following initiatives of the facilitation group:

  1. Identification and data collection on abandoned ships in Guanabara Bay
  2. Discussion on the possibility of ratification of the Hong Kong Convention that enters into force in the States that ratified it on 26 June 2025 after the accession of Bangladesh.
  3. Enactment of State Law 10.028 of 2023 in the State of Rio de Janeiro
  4. Ship recycling workgroup at the Maritime Cluster at Rio de Janeiro (Cluster Tecnologico Naval do Rio de Janeiro). For more information visit

Possible investors are already keeping recycling in Brazil on their radar and SMA is being reached to support them.

If you are interested in investing or knowing more about the activity in Brazil you can contact our team and we will be happy to help.