The issue of unsustainable ship recycling, with hazardous working practices and environmental pollution, mostly in Southeast Asian yards, has been for several years a key area of concern for global NGOs and the international shipping industry. In 2017, 835 large ocean-going ships were sold to the scrap yards, 543 of which were broken down on beaches of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan: amounting to 80,3% of all tonnage dismantled globally, according to NGO Shipbreaking Platform’s annual report published in February.
The problem in Alang was first documented by Greenpeace in 1998. Following actions by local NGOs, the Supreme Court issued several rulings demanding the improvement of the industry in order to bring it in line with national and international requirements for safe working conditions, environmental protection and waste trade law.
The Government responded with the adoption of the Ship Recycling Code in 2013, and the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) set up a waste reception facility. Workers now also receive a very basic training.
Still, the working and living conditions for shipbreaking workers, as well as the environmental protection standards in Alang, remain alarmingly poor, the Platform notes.
- According to local sources, at least 8 workers died at the yards in 2017.
- Yet absolute numbers of fatalities are not easily attainable, and serious injuries are rarely recorded.
- Occupational diseases are furthermore not documented at all.
- Impunity for yard owners remains a serious concern: no yard owner has ever been held responsible for the death of a worker as they manage to put pressure on the law enforcers to quickly drop the charges.
- From four yards in Alang receiving Statements of Compliance (SoC) with the Hong Kong Convention in 2015, there are now reportedly 66 yards that have one, out of a total of 154 yards.
However, the standard set by the HKC is weak and ignores crucial issues such as labour rights and downstream waste management. Disregard of the negative environmental impact of the beaching method, including hazardous operations in the intertidal zone and the use of the gravity method – which the Hong Kong Convention does not prohibit – remain serious concerns, as does the lack of proper accommodation and medical facilities for workers. Asbestos contaminated materials can be resold in India and there is no proper disposal site for PCBs.
In light of the many yards that rapidly obtained Hong Kong Convention Statements of Compliance in Alang in the past year, the Platform requested the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) to visit the area. Despite some first exchanges with the GMB through our member organisation Toxics Link, the GMB interrupted the communication once the participants’ list to the visit was shared with them.
…This was a missed opportunity for the yards and the GMB to show the claimed improvements, and to demonstrate that they are open to listen to the concerns of civil society. The unwillingness to receive NGOs in the shipbreaking yards illustrates that there is still a serious lack of transparency in the industry in India, both from the yard owners and the authorities.
In October 2017, the different members and board members met for the Annual General Meeting in Delhi. The occasion was used to also have a larger conference with other Indian NGOs on the issue of shipbreaking in India. During this event, the NGOs could identify specific needs of improvements in the industry and learn from each other’s experiences.