As the flourishing ship recycling industry soars towards its zenith, those in the field appear to have the premonition that the business in India will fold up soon. Not to be associated with to the cyclic nature of shipping, the presentiments are however based on the trend taking shape at the international maritime organization which is absorbed in putting in place the International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009.
Last year Alang, a major worldwide centre for ship breaking
on the Indian Western coast, registered over 160 vessels having been broken up generating over 9,000 tons of scrap metal. Until November of 2009 it had recycled 5019 ships. The pace of operation continues to gather speed.
“By the next five years ship breaking business in India will come to an end as there is no future for this activity,” informed P. S. Nagarsheth, President of the Iron Steel Scrap & Shipbreakers’ Association while discussing the ship recycling activity with Okechukwu Ibeanu, Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes and Human Rights Officer Stefano Sensi, both from Geneva.
“On one hand the market for re-rollable steel which is directly rolled by scrap roll mill is diminishing whereas the new convention scheduled to be passed by IMO will make ship recycling a costly affair,” he explained during the short-notice meeting with the two human rights officers of the United Nations (UN) who visited Alang in Gujarat on Sunday 17 January 2009 for talks with officials of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), Gujarat Maritime Board and other social groups.
Most stakeholders at the meetings contended that the new IMO convention had little to do with environmental protection. It was pointed out that the two main issues that have been highlighted in the convention are hazardous material and setting up of dry docks for ship recycling.
“The fact remains that the beaching method of ship breaking as prevalent in India is economical unlike setting up a dry dock which is a costly involving heavy investment,” pointed out Mr Nagarsheth. “The convention favor’s the ship owner and places no responsibility on them while putting all responsibilities on the ship breaker. This is ‘a ploy of the shipowners’ from developed nations of Europe to impose the entire responsibility on ship breakers so that they would not be held ‘accountable in any way’. They are insisting on having the certification of inventory of hazardous material maintained throughout the life of the ship. They want ‘the certification to be maintained on board the ship at all stages of the ‘ship’s journey from its cradle to the grave’."
It is not practical to keep tabs of say an item like the TBT paints through out the life of a ship that too without insisting on the TBT paint being replaced and allowing over-painting during the ship’s life, he explained. This means that if a few pounds of such material were found to be short at the time of recycling stage, the ship recycler would have to make up the shortfall at their own cost. So also is the case of other hazardous material.
Indian ship breakers allege that the developed nations of Europe want to dismantle the equally eco-friendly beaching method of re-cycling now prevalent at the at Alang in Gujarat (Western India) - to be totally dismantled which means that over a lakh of persons employed will get displaced.