Magazine article Risk Management

Where Ships Go to Die

Magazine article Risk Management

Where Ships Go to Die

Article excerpt

THE RISKS OF SHIP BREAKING

AN Indian tourism website touts the country's popular beaches as having white sand and crystal blue waters, complete with numerous water sport activities and prime bird watching vistas. Majestic resorts line the beach and tourists from all over the world flock to many of India's pristine shorelines for vacation.

There is another type of beach in India, however. One that attracts no tourists, no resorts and no vacations. One that has seen its sands turn to diseased mud and its waters turn to a murky lake bed of asbestos and oil. It is here where ships go to die. Not mere paddleboats, skiffs or modest fishing vessels, but massive tankers, cargo ships, aircraft carriers and even luxury passenger liners.

No matter its size, the lifespan of a steel vessel is usually 20 years and must not exceed 25 years, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). For most ship owners, it is more economical to declare a ship unfit for service after 20 to 25 years, instead of opting to service or modify the vessel. Insurance companies are also hesitant to provide coverage on a ship older than 20 years. Once the ship is declared unfit for use, it is labeled as an "end-or-lite" vessel and sold to scrap yards, the bulk of which call the shores of India, Bangladesh and Turkey home.

The ships then make the trip to these Third World countries, where worker safety and environmental regulations in ship breaking yards are virtually nonexistent. Here the ship is beached or dry docked and workers begin the painstaking and dangerous task of breaking it down by removing objects from inside the ship and dismantling the exterior steel.

Shipping companies have a choice, however. India, Bangladesh and Turkey are not the only countries with ship breaking yards. In fact, the United States is home to six such yards, all of which certify themselves as environmentally friendly. One U.S. ship breaking company's website even claims to be "ship recyclers, not ship breakers" in an attempt to distance itself from the literal toxicity of Third World ship breaking ventures.

When shipping companies must decide where to unload their end-of-life ships, the choice should be obvious. However, as Greenpeace states, "as European countries grew more conscious of environmental standards and health safety measures, cost of scrapping began to escalate and 90% of the ship breaking industry predictably moved to Asian countries."

"This is the tragedy of toxic waste," said Marietta Harjono, a senior campaigner in the genetic engineering, shipping and toxic department of Greenpeace Netherlands. "It always ends up in places where people and the environment are less protected, causing a toxic tragedy. We saw this happen in the 80s when environmental and labor regulation in the West became striaer and toxic waste from the West, as a consequence, was dumped in Africa."

Human Consequences

The act of "ship breaking" is nothing new for Third World countries and neither are its drastic consequences. The scrapping companies place great value on the steel reclaimed from vessels - a value that they rarely place on their workers.

According to report by Greenpeace and the International Federation of Human Rights, one ship breaking worker thes at the yards in Bangladesh every week. Sometimes laborers work for 24 straight hours without overtime pay or compensation for the loss of fingers, toes or hands - incidents which happen with alarming frequency.

Workers in the yard live in squalid, overcrowded conditions in sheet metal dorms scavenged from ship parts. Living amidst the constant drone of aroundthe-clock labor, workers never escape the toxic fumes and chemical waste.

At work, laborers dismande the ship with little more than hammers and torches, but the tool of choice is bare hands. Goggles and other protective eyewear are generally not worn. Long pants, helmets and shoes are also a rare sight. …

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