28 December 2005

Environmentally Safe-Shipbreaking:

Shipbreaking is a process of dismantling a vessel’s structure for scrapping and disposal whether conducted at a breach, pier, dry dock or dismantling slip. It includes a wide range of activities, from removing all gears and equipments to cutting down and recycling the ships’ infrastructure. Shipbreaking is a challenging process, due to structural complexity of the ships and many environmental, safety and health issues involved. While ship scrapping in dry docks of industrialized countries is regulated, shipbreaking on beaches, alongside piers is less subject to control and inspection.

Breaking old or redundant ships rather than scuttling or using them as artificial riffs, enables steel and other parts of the ships to be recycled at a much lower cost than importing and processing iron ore. Less energy is also needed. It also provides for timely removing of outdated tonnage from international waters. Hundreds of vessels are scrapped each year, a trend which will continue with the phasing out of single hull vessels.

Problems of industry:

Shipbreaking is one of the most hazardous occupations. This over the last decade, has been concentrated in a few developing Asian countries- India, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan and Turkey on account of low wages and a lower level of compliance with international standards on safety, health and poor working and environmental conditions.

Although many of the hazardous material used to build a ship -asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, toxic paint such as tri-butylitin and heavy metals are mostly restricted or banned today. But a ship built 20-30 years ago still contains these materials. It also carries hazardous and flammable chemicals used for paints, repairs and maintenance etc. Electrical cables and other control systems contain hazardous material. The paint coat can contaminate soil and water when torched or scrapped. This is hazardous for human beings and the environment. The protection and safety and health of workers handling the hazardous waste is of crucial importance.

The issue of ship recycling is being deliberated for the past several years at International fora namely International Labour Organisation, Maritime Organisation & the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans Boundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

Under the Basel Convention, till date there is no consensus on the question of treating ships destined for scrapping as hazardous wastes. The issue of legal aspects of shipbreaking was first discussed in Conference of the Parties of the Convention (COP-5) in December 1989. In spite of a number of meetings of technical and legal working groups, several issues are still pending on dismantling and recycling within the framework of the Basel Convention. The Convention has developed technical guidelines for the partial and full dismantling of ships.

Many European countries and NGOs like Basel Action Network and Green Peace advocate that the PIC procedure followed under the Basel Convention for Tran-boundary movement of hazardous wastes must be applied to ships destined for breaking. However, under Maritime Law, a ship is a separate entity and has several financial and other claims due to which it can not be classified as a hazardous waste even when it is destined for scrapping. IMO has accepted that a ship that can propel under its own powers is not a waste. The issues relating to ship breaking are still under consideration of the joint working group of IMO, ILO and Basel Convention.

Alang Shipbreaking Yard:

Recognizing shipbreaking as a potential source of raw material for the re-rolling mills in early 80’s, import of ships for breaking was accelerated. Prior to 1979 the Shipbreaking activity in India was limited to breaking of barges, small sized ships and casualty ships. It was concentrated in two major ports namely Mumbai and Calcutta. Every year 600-700 sea vessels are brought to the once pristine beaches of Asia for scrapping.

At Alang in Gujarat, ships are beached up to the yard because of its peculiar marine conditions and high tide. In other shipbreaking countries, the ship does not come up to the yard, but is tightened on the sea bed and the pieces are pulled to the yard. Lightening of the ship on the sea bed is dangerous as far as oil pollution is concerned in case of tankers. Beaching method in shipbreaking has to be continued as it is most economical and practical. All the major shipbreaking countries presently follow this method. The beaching method depends on skilful harnessing of zero cost tidal energy at sheltered coastal locations and warrants the least capital investment. Considering the favorable parameters for beaching method like high tidal range, firm seabed, gentle seaward slope etc., it was decided to set-up a shipbreaking yard on the western coast of Gulf of Cambay near Alang village. The first vessel – MV KOTA TENJONG was beached at Alang on February 13, 1983. Since then, the yard has witnessed spectacular growth and has emerged as a leading shipbreaking yard in the world.

This once beautiful beach has emerged as one of the choicest ship-scrapping destinations for the ship owners around the world. There are 173 plots to carry out the ship-recycling activities. This activity forms an industry by itself, as it provides around 30,000 jobs in Alang itself and generates steel totaling to millions of tons every year. That too, with minimum consumption of electricity. It amounts to saving of huge amount of non-cyclic and precious mineral reserves like coal, petroleum etc. Shipbreaking activities are also undertaken in the States of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra.

Ships are mobile structures of comprehensive size and consist mostly of steel. At the end of their active life, they become a sought-after source of ferrous scrap. This acts as an alternative to the non-renewable resource of ore and is particularly suited for the production of simple steel products. Obsolete vessels available for scrapping may also represent a useful source of supply for second hand equipment and components.

Breaking of ships on such a large scale necessitate extensive care on issues like physical and social infrastructure, worker safety and welfare, environment management, establishment of down stream and ancillary industries etc. These involve not only the financial resources but also many others influencing factors viz. proper knowledge base, compatibility of mindset between workers and the ship recyclers, availability of land and negotiation skills for legal issues.

Gujarat Maritime Board:

Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) as a regulator has put in sincere efforts to accelerate the growth of this industry. The procedure presently being followed is cutting the pipes from the engine section on which Asbetstos Containing Materials (ACMs) are present and bringing the same to the yard, where it is removed by wetting with water and scrapped to remove ACMs.

The ACMs are then solidified by mixing with cement which is subsequently disposed of in Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF). This method ensures safe removal of ACMs from the workers health point of view and also environment protection. GMB has developed a TSDF for treatment and disposal of hazardous wastes. The TSDF has 50,000 tonnes capacity for disposal of hazardous waste.

Millions of tonnes of steel is recycled by re-rolling mills. Many mechanical spares find their applications in one-way or other. Various electrical components hold special value for fixed set of customers. A truly strong platform to promote re-usability of products, which are otherwise considered to be scrap.

The present recycling facilities in the world are sufficient to take care of the world recycling requirements today. The capacity available for breaking ships in the world was estimated in 2005 at around 12 m.ldt (million light displacement tonnes) whereas ships coming to the ship demolition market have drastically come down to around 2 m.ldt. Since 2002, the availability of ships for demolition reduced from the level of 28.0 m.dwt (million dead weight tonnes) to 4.5 m.dwt.

Shipbreaking Business Booming:

India’s share which slipped from 10.8 m.dwt in 2002 to about 1.0 m.dwt is having boom time at present though shipping companies world wide are bleeding due to present trends of the market. Prices of ships coming for demolition at about US$350/ldt, as against the melting steel scrap price of about US$230/tonne have been lowered by 40 to 50% today. In terms of weight in Light Displacement Tonnage (ldt), India’s share of 7 m.ldt during 2002 is expected to help in crossing its capacity to sell 4 million tones of steel by the year 2009.

The 1992 Basel Convention on the control of trans-boundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal, controls and regulates the import of hazardous wastes into the country. India is a party to the Basel Convention. It signed the Convention on 15.3.1990, ratified it on 24.6.1992, and acceded to the Convention on 22.9.1992. Import of such wastes may be allowed for processing or re-use as raw material, after each case has been examined on merit by the State Pollution Control Board.

Source: Prativad.com. By Kalpana Palkhiwala