Prior to tankers being sold for recycling, migrant workers are duped into removing dangerous sludge and slop from tankers with bare hands and without protective gear
The hue and cry about casualties taking place at ship breaking yards may have died down after intense hostile protests by Greenpeace and other NGOs against the methods employed in ship breaking yards. They may have got measures in place to curb pollution and prevent accidents and deaths taking place in most recycling yards. But what has actually happened is that while the sharks have got away the minnows have been trapped.
The more horrendous aspect of this whole ship disposal activity is before the oil tanker is to be sold to the cash buyer (who in turn resells it to the ship recycler). Before the vessel can be brought to the recycling yard it has to be free of all hazardous material. The normal process of removing the sludge from oil tanker takes care of only 80% of the sludge and slop. The tanker has also to be gas free before it goes to the ship recycling yard.
“The ship owners or their contractors engage unwary laborers, who get employed as deck hands, to enter the tank and clean the sludge off the tank by hand,” informed Tony Fernandez, a leading average adjustor who is also a Foreign Associate Member of the Association of Average Adjusters of the US and is a globally renowned marine consultant. “Such laborers are from India, Bangladesh, etc., and who are taken illegally and returned back. What these laborers do not know is that the crude oil sludge contains toxic material including arsenic, mercury and sometimes radioactive substances. This poses a huge safety risk to both humans and the environment with which it comes into contact. Many workers are forced to remove the sludge with their bare hands, put it in gunny bags and dump the toxic materials over board. They are invariably made to work without being provided any protective clothing or proper breathing apparatus. As a result they are oblivious of being exposed to toxic vapors and other harmful materials.”
Giving inputs Capt DK Singh who was in command of several tankers but is now sailing occasionally since he devotes much of his time to assisting seafarers as consultant with Forward Seamen’s Union of India (FSUI) states, “Dubai, Sharjah and Singapore are considered "paradise" for this activity. Duped into believing they are being taken abroad for lucrative jobs, thousands of young Indians mostly migrant laborers, become easy prey and fall into the trap of such operators engaged by ship owners who are interested in selling their vessels. They are flown down to the places where these vessels are berthed for de-sludging operations and often forced into undertaking such tasks of removing the sludge and slop.”
Many cash buyers aware of this activity say that they are not involved and the task of de-sludging and cleaning is given to third party contractors. A few allege that it is the ship owners who arrange their temporary CDC for laborers and get them on-board as crew members. Temporary CDCs can be obtained from flag of convenience such as the Korean registry for a few cents. Once they land in the foreign country they are forced to do the work of removing the sludge by hand with the contractor not concerned about the risk to their lives. As a result they are in permanent danger and the work fetches them a mere 1 or 2 dollars a day. These men are largely migrant workers. Hundreds of lives are lost or workers get inflicted with life threatening illnesses.
The extent of injuries and deaths that occur may go into hundreds but neither Greenpeace nor any other such organizations have taken the matter seriously as most of these operations take place in the confines of the ship far from land and without much notice from prying eyes.