The huge red gripper mounted on top of a long articulated shovel tirelessly grabs scrap metal, shears it and then tears it out. In a few days, only a pile of debris from the two old 600-ton refrigerated ships remained.

Before that, they were cleaned of their liquids, hydrocarbons, oils and dangerous gases, then asbestos removed. Shims, glass wool and wooden and metal plates were also removed.

The scrap, collected in the form of refit using magnetic shovels, then goes to European and French foundries, notably ArcelorMittal in Dunkirk.

The sector was born in Brest with the dismantling of the TK Bremen, a Maltese freighter which ran aground on a beach in Morbihan in 2011. “Since then, it has been developing”, assures AFP Olivier Lebosquain, director of the site which employs about forty people.

In 2020 and 2021, he notably deconstructed the last three diesel submarines of the French Navy. After the Karl and the Antigone Z, it will dismantle the Russian icebreaker tanker Varzuga, 165 meters long and 6,600 tonnes. It will be the largest merchant ship ever deconstructed in France.

Equipped with facilities classified for the protection of the environment, the Brest shipyard is the only one on the Atlantic coast authorized to dismantle high tonnage ships.

Covering an area of ​​15,000 m2, it has been on the European List of Approved Ship Recycling Facilities since 2016, which lists around thirty in the European Union and twelve others in Great Britain, Turkey and the United States.

“We have just deconstructed two boats and we have a load plan which is still important”, welcomes Pierre Rolland, president of Navaleo. The project plans to create 10 to 15 jobs per year over the next few years.

In 2021, the company exported some 30,000 tonnes of steel from Brest from operations to dismantle military ships or “suction cups”, these boats in poor condition abandoned in ports by unscrupulous shipowners.

-“Low-looking” states-

“We can imagine that these boats would have gone to Asia mainly, so we can be delighted that the ship dismantling sector in Brest is developing”, underlines Mr. Lebosquain.

Since 2019, European regulations require the dismantling of boats flying the European flag in a shipyard approved by the European Union.

“Things are progressing, but we will have to work concretely with a certain number of States of the European Union which are not very attentive”, notes however the Breton MEP Pierre Karleskind during a visit to the site.

Some Member States circumvent the regulations by changing the flag of their end-of-life ships in order to have them deconstructed in shipyards that offer attractive prices to the detriment of social, health and environmental regulations.

During the first quarter of 2022, 129 cargo ships were deconstructed worldwide, notes the latest bulletin “Shipbreaking” from the environmental association. Only four were in shipyards approved by the European Union.

“The other ships left or were leaving for Bangladesh, India, Pakistan or Turkey”, most often on equipped beaches, the association told AFP.

Of these 129 ships, 43 have changed their flag to adopt that of States such as Saint-Kitts-and-Nevis, the Comoros or Palau in order to escape European regulations, regrets Robin des Bois.

Navaleo, however, claims to be increasingly approached by French and European shipowners who do not wish or no longer wish to “deflag” their boats.

“These shipowners question us very regularly and we have ongoing projects that we hope to see completed in 2023 and 2024,” enthuses Pierre Rolland.