Alang, largest global ship breaking center – a boon or a curse?

Last updated on Oct 14, 2012

Posted on Oct 14, 2012

A ship being dismantled in Alang

Half of all the ships dismantled and broken down at the end of life in the world end up in Alang, Gujarat in Gulf of Khambhat.  Alang is 50 kms south east of Bhavnagar.

Until the late 1990s, ship breaking was primarily centered around the developed world, but with growing costs in the West and low labor cost arbitrage in some developing countries along with less restrictive laws made it profitable to move the ship breaking work here. However, the ecology and the environment of these areas, specifically Alang, have been badly impacted!

Even in the comparatively safe working conditions in the West, accidents on ships or in shipyards are not uncommon. Often, they can lead to injury resulting in the victim seeking the services of a maritime injury lawyer to help them out with their case. Maritime workers work in unique conditions and this is reflected in the dangers and risks posed on them. This by no means makes it acceptable when something does happen and someone has been injured in an accident.

The workers can salvage a lot of material from such large ships that find their way to Alang.

About 150-200 workers can break down a 10,000-tonne ship in three months, salvaging nearly every part.

But this benefit to a few individuals and the community over there comes with a high cost to environment.  Extremely toxic substances like Mercury and Asbestos are allowed to seep into the soil and water.  There are hardly any laws out there to help the workers in Alang. (link)

Yet for environmentalists and labour campaigners, the upturn in business means something else. Campaigners point out that the working conditions for the often undocumented migrant labourers from India’s poorest states, can be highly dangerous and there are regular reports of injuries and fatalities. Earlier this month, six workers died when a fire broke out at one of the plots. Activists say the impoverished workers have no bargaining power.
Dwarika Nath Rath, a Gujarat-based activist and member of the Socialist Unity Centre of India, a small Communist party, has for many years been monitoring the human toll of the operations. “These workers, coming from places like Orissa and Bihar, say that if they want to save their families they have to die themselves,” he said. “The main problem is that there is no regulation, there is no law. These people need to be given ID cards and registered as workers. When an accident happens these people are not in the log-book.”

Recently 6 workers died while working on dismantling an Oil Tanker when there was a najor explosion on the tanker.

An explosion and subsequent fire on the oil tanker that was being dismantled at the yard on October 6 led to the death of five labourers on the spot while one person succumbed tohis injuries in the hospital. One labourer is still recuperating in a hospital. Days after the blast, the police arrested proprietors of Kiran Ship Breaking Company, namely, Ram Kishan Jain and Vipan Kumar Jain and their manager Rajesh Jugud in connection with the incident, under IPC section 304 for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Even when the fatalities happen and the law – whatever little is there – takes its course, the proprietors in this industry don’t like it.

Ship-breaking companies at Alang Ship Yard observed bandh for the second consecutive day today protesting arrest of three ship-breakers under stringent IPC sections in connection with the death of six labourers in a blast on an oil tanker while it was being dismantled there. All the 135-odd ship breaking units in the Alang Ship Breaking and Recycling Yard area in Bhavnagar district remained closed following the bandh call given by the Ship Recycling Industries Association India (SRIAI). Meanwhile, representatives of various plastic, chemical, transport and other industry associations too have lent their support for the protest, SRIAI joint secretary Nikhil Gupta said.

Short Term Profits and a Loss of Environment for Many Millenia

Some say that the sea waters and beaches in Alang area were pristine before the Ship breaking industry started in full swing in the 1990s.  The degradation of the beach has been rapid.

Besides the environmental impact, the workers are in abyssmal state.  As DN Rathi, above suggests that these workers are well aware of the hell they are working in.  Why can’t the Govenment step in and make some serious regulations as well as making sure that everything is not simply thrusted in the country’s shores.  Even more important, is to ensure that these regulations work and are implemented properly.  Until then Alang is on a rather slippery slope to extinction.

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