17 February 2006

Bangladesh govt. rejects SS Norway, welcome by NGO platform:

The NGO Platform on Shipbreaking applauds the Bangladeshi government’s decision demanding full decontamination of the SS Norway.

Brussels, 17 February 2006: A coalition of environmental, anti asbestos and human rights organisations today celebrate a further victory in the battle to prevent toxic end-of-life ships being sent to developing countries for shipbreaking.

Following the French government’s decision to take back the asbestos laden ex-aircraft carrier Clemenceau, the Bangladeshi Minister of Environment announced yesterday that his government will not let another notoriously contaminated ship, the SS Norway, enter his country’s waters before it has been fully decontaminated. The wreck contains 1,250 tonnes of asbestos and other toxics on board. The government took this decision after the director of Jiri Subedar Ship Breaking Yard announced, on Wednesday, that the contract for the purchase of the Norway had been finalised.

Like the Clemenceau, the Norway – as long as not fully decontaminated - is to be considered hazardous waste as defined in the Basel Convention and Council Regulation (EEC) 259/93/EEC on Shipments of Waste. Both cases indicate that India and Bangladesh are ready to send a clear signal to Europe, and the rest of the OECD countries, that decontamination of ships domestically is needed before export.

The NGO Platform applauds their efforts to protect the environment and workers’ health from asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals and other toxic wastes. We also welcome President Chirac’s initiative to find both international and European solutions, and call on the EU to ensure proper follow-up so that the waste problems are not simply exported to vulnerable workers and the environment in the developing world’s shipbreaking yards.

End-of-life ships are the most significant stream of illegal waste exports from Europe to poorer countries in Asia, leaving them with a toxic waste and occupational health management burden violating the principles of human rights, environmental justice, “polluter pays” and producer responsibility. So that ships can be scrapped in an environmentally sound and safe manner, other shipbreaking countries should echo Bangladesh’s decision and shipowners should take responsibility for their waste by fully decontaminating their vessels before sending them to Asian shipbreaking yards.

The NGO Platform on Shipbreaking will continue to work for this on a global scale.

Source: The NGO Platform for Shipbreaking. 17 February 2006

16 February 2006

Clemenceau: Turning point in shipbreaking industry

Greenpeace invites shipbreaking industry to take leadership

Greenpeace activists board the carrier ship Clemenceau 50 nautical miles off the coast of Egypt, hanging a banner that reads “Asbestos carrier stay out of India.” Greenpeace is protesting against transit of the Clemenceau, which has been sent to India for decommissioning despite widespread outrage at the high levels of asbestos and other hazardous materials it contains

Press release:

New Delhi, India — In response to the French Government's decision to recall their warship, Le Clemenceau, to France, Greenpeace invited members of the Indian shipbreaking association to take advantage of the opportunity to transform the Indian shipbreaking industry to international standards in alignment with national and international law and respect for human rights and environment.

"The writing is on the wall; the industry must acknowledge that competitive advantage cannot be based on exploitation.  There is an urgent need for new vision and leadership in Alang," said Ramapati Kumar, Toxics Campaigner, Greenpeace India, "We have written to the shipbreakers' association offering to work closely with them to ensure that Alang becomes the destination of choice for responsible dismantling of end-of-life ships."

"It is a victory for the workers in the shipbreaking yards across Asia who will be beneficially impacted by this decision," said All India Trade Union Congress deputy secretary H. Mahadevan, "We will take steps to ensure that the unorganized workers of Alang are aware of their rights and demand improved facilities from authorities."

President Chirac has indicated that this is a moment of transformation for the entire industry. Commentators in France are hailing this as the beginning of a new era for economic cooperation between the global North and South.

"We urge the Indian and French governments to use the opportunity presented by President Chirac's visit to create a new model for Indo-European trade, one that equally emphasizes economic benefits, environmental sustainability and human rights," said G. Ananthapadmanabhan, Executive Director, Greenpeace India, "The French expressed their concern for Indian environment and worker safety, manifested in their offer to transfer technology to Alang. We expect President Chirac to commit firmly to this offer during his visit to India."

Source: Greenpeace. 16 February 2006

10 February 2006

Indian Shipbreaking: We Get the Waste and Pay For It

Interview with Claude Alvares, member of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes

Dr. Claude Alvares received his Ph.D. from the Technische Hogeschool, Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, in 1976. After his professional education, he quit university and started working on environmental issues. The Director of the Goa Foundation, an environmental monitoring action group, which has filed over 80 public interest petitions in various High Courts and the Supreme Court, he is also a member of the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). Alvares, a member of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Wastes, spoke to Lyla Bavadam on the issues raised by Clemenceau.


What is the main issue at stake?
Can France impose a confidentiality clause about revealing the extent of asbestos remaining on Clemenceau?

I do not think that France can impose a confidentiality clause. We in India are bound by the orders of the Supreme Court. We can therefore demand proper information about whether a ship has been adequately decontaminated. If we are not convinced, we can take necessary action or inform the apex court and it can take the necessary action. Since the apex court is now seized of the matter, we shall send it a detailed report.

There is little doubt that France has a history of trying desperately to get rid of the ship because decontaminating it in Europe would be frightfully expensive. The present deal has France riding high: It contracts with the Ship Decommissioning Industry Corporation [SDIC] to have the ship decontaminated and broken for 100,000 euros. The SDIC pays 3 million euros to Technopure to get the ship partially decontaminated of asbestos in France. The SDIC contracts the ship to an Indian shipbreaker for 8 million euros.

France rids itself of the liability of looking after the toxic elements of the ship, which include lead, asbestos, tritium [radioactive element] and polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs]. The Third World gets the waste and, worse, pays for it as well in foreign exchange.

In these circumstances, France has an advantage in not disclosing the quantities on board the ship. It says it has removed 115 tonnes and it is 90 per cent of the asbestos waste and that there are only 45 tonnes left. But 115 tonnes is not 90 per cent of 160 tonnes. They have said nothing about lead and PCBs embedded in the solid matrix of the ship. We are yet to receive a detailed inventory of the toxic elements lodged in the ship. We are also very limited in our interpretation of what constitutes asbestos containing material [ACM]. The Europeans include everything, we only include insulation. So we handle the other material without restrictions, which is absurd.

Why did not the SCMC take a decision on January 6 itself instead of asking for more time?
What additional information was required for the SCMC to take a decision?

Greenpeace and Technopure are parties that might have their own interest in presenting their data to the SCMC. We have not heard the legitimate owners of the ship [the French government, the SDIC] or the importers [Shree Ram]. They may have data which prove that Greenpeace or Technopure are incorrect. So we need to listen to both sides and make up our minds. This is on fact, not on law.

The law issue has been settled by the apex court, though there is no restriction on the SCMC from making a recommendation to the apex court that the issues relating to shipbreaking be reviewed. 2 weeks time has been given to all parties to produce data regarding what is on the ship. After that, if there is still inadequate data, the SCMC could recommend sending the vessel back to France. The full SCMC will make a proper decision after listening to all the facts. We are all keeping an open mind.

Rejecting the ship outright would have set a precedent that India does not want contaminated vessels. Instead, would debating the issue send out the message that India will deal with toxic materials on a case-by-case basis rather than on the basis of principle?

There are still serious issues. The apex court has not banned shipbreaking. It based its decision on the Menon Committee report, which only recommended that severe environmental conditions be imposed before shipbreaking could continue. India [as a government] has taken the view that ships destined for demolition are not waste covered by the Basel Convention. These are the contexts in which the SCMC has to act.

The last ship we got into a controversy about was Ricky. We got a report saying the asbestos waste generated on demolition was 222 kg. But the Danish authorities claimed it had 17 tonnes of ACM on board. We would like to re-examine this aspect now. We took serious note of Ricky and then Clemenceau because we found that in the case of Ricky, the Danish government objected to the export of the ship, and in the case of Clemenceau, we had indication that decontamination was not done as required by the Supreme Court order and the directions of the SCMC. These are fairly logical decisions. Other ships continue to come to Alang, but follow the norms given in the apex court order.

Would an immediate decision banning the ship's entry into India have not sent out the correct message to Indian shipbreaking companies that the government is concerned about the rights of workers at such yards?

That would be a double standard for Indian industry: one at Alang, one outside Alang in the country as a whole. Asbestos is a legitimate material in India and several new asbestos units are in fact planned. Here again, as distinct from Europe and the United States, India has decided to continue with asbestos. This is again a policy decision. The SCMC cannot change that, though it can recommend such a change. I do not think the conditions in asbestos units in India are any better or worse than the conditions at Alang. Because of our insistence on safety standards, Shree Ram says it has in fact imported asbestos decontamination chambers and worker equipment. Only use and monitoring of use would tell whether it is adequate. Because of the apex court order, the number of deaths has marginally decreased. Now any shipbreaker has to deposit Rs.5 lakhs on the death or serious injury of any person on the plot. This was not there earlier and is a serious deterrent. The SCMC has installed several measures at Alang - a secured landfill constructed to international standards, worker safety and identity cards, separate places where hazardous waste has to be stored when it is removed from the ship, and so on.

We have now begun to insist that no asbestos should be removed from the ships, but that equipment, piping, and so on, which contain asbestos or is coated with asbestos, should be removed from the ship as a whole piece, and then brought to the shore. Only then should the asbestos be removed, that too in a decontamination chamber. We have recommended that it be located at the secured landfill facility and all asbestos decontamination from all ships be done in one place so that it can be safely monitored from the point of view of workers' health. There are still measures that need to be taken, including maintaining the medical records of workers exposed to asbestos. As a result of all these measures, however, the number of active shipbreaking plots has come down from 180 to fewer than 50.

In September 2005, the MoEF said there was "no consensus under international conventions on the guidelines regarding shipbreaking and so the activity is being regulated by the Supreme Court". Clearly, this is tantamount to giving full authority to the SCMC. Does the reality of the process reflect this?

The MoEF is the last institution in this country that is concerned about the environment. I make this statement with reference to not just shipbreaking but other issues as well. Right now G. Thyagarajan, Chairman of the SCMC, has written to the Ministry about the ship, informing it that the import of the ship would be a violation of the apex court order dated 14.10.2003.

MoEF Secretary Pradipto Ghosh indicated that India could handle the ship. And the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) actually seems keen to take on the ship, but for formality's sake has asked Gujarat Environment Protection and Infrastructure Ltd. for a toxicity report. Would you have any idea how such a report could be prepared since the very basis - the amount of asbestos - is unknown?

Your guess is as good as mine. If Ghosh's argument is accepted, we can accept all the waste oil of the world because we have capacity to handle that as well. We can accept lead acid batteries as well, because we have furnaces that can deal with lead safely. But we cannot because we are a signatory to Basel and because the apex court in 1997 banned all wastes banned by Basel and to be banned or proposed to be banned under Basel. So the apex court pre-empted any position the Union government could take in the matter. The import of asbestos waste is banned under Basel. It is also banned under the Hazardous Waste Rules notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, for India.

What makes the French authorities think that they can get away with violating laws, or do they think it is not a violation?

The French moved the WTO [World Trade Organisation] to get their ban on asbestos import from Canada upheld. They also know that the ship's decontamination is expensive, even for the French government. The irony is that the French amended their Constitution recently and inserted clauses for environment protection that India inserted in 1976. Their President is also promoted as an ecologist. So how does this reconcile with sending a ship with unknown quantities of asbestos, PCBs and lead to India where it will be dumped at costs that do not reflect the costs of workers' health and environment? The first estimate given by Technopure for asbestos decontamination was 6.3 million euros. They were asked for a cheaper proposal. They submitted one for 3 million euros. That needs to be explained. Is there at least 3.3 million euros worth decontamination remaining to be done on that ship? This is not including the PCBs lodged in the ship's body.

France's attitude is contrary to that of Denmark in the April 2005 incident when a commercial Danish ship illegally left Danish waters for Alang. Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard wrote to A. Raja, her Indian counterpart, telling him to refuse entry to the ship since it was illegal traffic under Basel. Any comment or observations on this responsible action?

I would like to know what actions the Danes have taken pursuant to the ship leaving their shores illegally. Have the ship owners been prosecuted? Have they filed proceedings under Basel Convention for violation of its provisions, since under the Convention if one country considers something a waste, all the other countries dealing with it also have to consider it a waste. I hate to think that sometimes a lot of noise is made when the ship leaves European shores, but no actions commensurate with that are taken to prevent the ship from going to India. So they get the best of both worlds.

What was the basis of the decision to allow Ricky into India?
Is the distinction - in-built asbestos is permissible while cargo asbestos is not - acceptable? How can it be justified?

The issue has never been cargo. The authorities in India make a lot of noise that they have inspected the ship and found no hazardous cargo in it. This is a response to Greenpeace and others who keep loosely attacking these ships on the grounds that they are "laden" with toxic wastes [meaning they are part of the vessel structure]. This game has gone on for some time now. At the SCMC, we are fully aware that there will never be any cargo that is hazardous on these ships because we have installed a reasonably reliable procedure to ensure these ships enter the country without any goods aboard. The Customs, in fact, board every ship destined for Alang. The issue has always been the fact that these ships contain a lot of asbestos and other toxic materials in their solid matrix. I was wholly unhappy with the Ricky affidavit filed on behalf of the SCMC. Others in the SCMC agreed with me. I made a lot of noise in the SCMC about it because that affidavit was prepared by the MoEF and the GPCB, both of whom are respondents in the petition on hazardous wastes, and filed in the name of the SCMC. We thought our objections would be taken on board. They were not. In fact, none of the Ricky documents was shown to any of the SCMC members, and neither was the application filed by Ms. M. Dutta in the Ricky matter. That affidavit actually represents the position of the government and not the SCMC. That is the reason why the SCMC is now dealing with the apex court directly in the case of the Clemenceau.

What are the expenses involved in decontamination?
Can India afford it?
Do we have the technology?

The SDIC claims it will be importing a decontamination chamber for asbestos removal for the Clemenceau at a cost of Rs. 2.5 crores. On the other shipbreaking yards, there is no use of such equipment because they do not have it. The expenses are far lower than the European costs. I do not think we can match the use of equipment and record keeping of the companies doing asbestos removal in France. I have seen some evidence of such record keeping. We cannot do that here. So we are saving the Europeans costs in this manner.

Source: Frontline. By Lyla Bavadam. 10 February 2006

Alang Shipbreaking Yard: Profits Over Safety

Minimal protective gear is given to those who cut metal in Alang
Alang's industrial downturn has been blamed on tight safety regulations, but it is government policies and the unwillingness of shipbreakers to invest in safety that are crippling the industry.

It is 4 a.m. on a January morning in Alang. About 2 nautical miles from shore, a ship waits, lights blazing. The captain takes his instructions from Alang Control: he is told to switch off all lights except those used for navigation. He charts his course - full speed ahead and directly towards the shore. The green and red navigation lights come closer at an alarming speed until the ship stops suddenly, its bow embedded deep in the soft mud. The Captain's voice, heavy with melancholy, reports over the wireless: "Beaching successful."

While the mood on board the ship is understandably subdued at the vessel's last journey, the mood on shore is joyful. The yard mukadam surveys the vessel in the early morning darkness and gives his professional opinion on the potential of the scrap it may generate and the ease of the job. His words are listened to carefully; men of his level of experience and training are increasingly difficult to find since Alang no longer offers the job potential it used to. Indeed, the arrival of this ship has been the cause of some celebration; beachings are no longer as commonplace as they once were.

The industry has been slipping into the doldrums for over a year. Of the original 180 plots (as the private shipbreaking yards are referred to) only 26 are functional. Up to December 2005 there were only 73 ships in Alang and about 4,000 workers - a far cry from the yard's record peak during 1997-98 when Alang employed over 40,000 workers and its 180 plots worked to their maximum capacity to handle the 347 ships that were waiting to be broken.

Business was booming not just for the shipyard owners and their workers, but also for the numerous ancillary industries that were wholly dependent on shipbreaking. Oil re-processing units, steel re-rolling mills, iron scrap, oxygen plants, foundries and the many kilometres of shops at Alang that trade in items from the ships are all industries that sprang up around the business of shipbreaking. These too have been severely hit.

80% of the steel re-rolling mills have shut down because of the poor flow of basic material from the yards. And only 12% of oxygen cylinder plants are still operational because of the drop in demand for metal cutting. The transport industry has also been severely hit. When ship-breaking was at its peak, a long-distance truck transporter could be sure of at least one trip in 10 days. This has now dropped to one trip every five weeks or so. The ship-breaking industry continues to thrive worldwide. What, therefore, is the reason for its decline at Asia's largest shipbreaking yard?

It is a common public misconception, indeed a convenient excuse, that the rules imposed by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Wastes are responsible for killing the trade at Alang. The Ship Recycling Industries Association (SRIA), India, admits this. Joint secretary of the SRIA Nitin Kanakiya bluntly states that it is the policies of the State and Central governments that have been largely responsible for the sharp drop in India's share in ship-recycling activities, mainly, unfavourable duty structures, additional tax burdens and tax concessions given to the steel industry in Kutch.

One of the greatest concerns of the Alang shipbreakers is that they are losing out to shipyards in Bangladesh, Pakistan and China. Those yards, they say, not only are less particular about international regulations, but, more significantly, have the support of their governments as far as tax structures and concessions are concerned. He told Frontline: "In India the ship demolition industry was always on a par with melting scrap [differentiated from the ship demolition industry by the fact that the scrap industry would melt any metal] but for the last four years or so we have been burdened with a 5% customs duty that is higher than that of melting scrap. This means that the resale value of metal obtained from recycling ships will be higher than that of metal from the scrap industry. Naturally, potential buyers would favour the recycled scrap metal."

A dismembered ship beached with thermocol, a hazardous waste, stacked in the open
Similarly, there is what is referred to as the Kutch factor, a complete tax break from Central and State taxes for the steel industry in Kutch. The attempt is an obvious one to create industries and employment in the region, and steel units responded by setting up units there. The downside of this 15-year tax break has meant that Alang steel cannot compete with Kutch steel in the market. "High operative costs, inflexibility of the government to modify regulations and the uncertainty of the renewal of our yard leases by the Gujarat Maritime Board [GMB] have all added to our problem," says Vippin Aggrawal, honorary secretary of the SRIA.

Despite acknowledging factors other than the environmental and safety regulations as responsible for the deterioration, the SRIA does not hide its antagonism towards "hypocrites and antagonists like Greenpeace and other NGOs [non-governmental organisations]" who enforce the "rigid norms of First World standards." While accepting that the regulations are essential, Aggrawal believes that the shipbreakers are paying for their open-mindedness to change. "India is the only [Asian] country that lets Greenpeace have its say. Why not go to China or Bangladesh or Pakistan? They know that they will not be tolerated there for one moment. We fulfill all the statutory obligations for environmental and worker safety. I agree that some years ago it was not as good as it is now for the environment or for the workers but it has been a learning process even for us and we are open about this."

The claim that all regulations are being followed is disputed by P.S. Nagarsheth, who has been in the business for 45 years and has been the president of the Iron Steel Scrap and Ship breakers Association of India for the past 15 years. Nagarsheth says, "The GMB is not interested in implementing the regulations. The overall appearance of the yard has to improve. Masks, helmets, safety shoes and goggles should be widely seen. We are in a peculiar situation and if we are wise we will maximise it. Because of this Clemenceau issue, the world is watching us now. We should use this chance to improve our image so that the whole world says `Let us sell ships only to India. They do things the right way.'" Differentiating between "acceptance of rules and application of them", Nagarsheth says neither the shipbreakers nor the GMB is serious about the application of the regulations.

The shipbreakers' often-used phrase - "it is a learning process" - is almost a cover for the wrongdoings of the past. Their plea remains that prior to the introduction of SCMC regulations, the dangers of handling waste from ships was not known at the time and therefore they should not be held responsible. Even if this argument (weak as it is) is accepted, it still does not explain why workers were never provided with basic safety gear like helmets, goggles, safety shoes and gloves. It stands to reason that handling heavy machinery and materials is a hazardous job and shipbreakers should have automatically provided safety clothing. Prior to the SCMC regulations, safety gear was practically unheard of at the yards.

Nagarsheth says that investment in safety gear is still minimal and all yards should be forced into buying enough for their workers. However, when asked about the special equipment required for handling hazardous material such as asbestos, he expressed an almost naïve confidence in the existing techniques of dealing with the material: "You just have to ensure that the asbestos is kept wet when cutting it. The main thing is that the powder should not fly about and that the workers should wear full protective clothing and masks." This method of handling a highly toxic material was shared by all the shipbreakers. They asserted that there have been no ill effects on workers handling asbestos.

Asbestos insulation being removed from a pipe in a so-called contained area in Alang
At present the asbestos, which is primarily in the form of insulation, is dealt with in the following way -

It is taken to a contained area, sprayed with water and then manually scraped off the pipes. The powder and shavings are then put into a mortar pipe, sealed and deposited in a lined landfill.

The so-called contained area is usually just separated from the rest of the environment by a low wall of plastic sheeting and is open to the sky. Compared to the earlier system where asbestos was scraped off the pipes and just dumped in open spaces, this new method is advanced and, as far as the shipbreakers are concerned, adequate. At present the disposal of hazardous waste is handled by a company called Gujarat Environment Protection and Infrastructure Ltd. The filled cement pipes are transported to Naroda, near Ahmedabad, and deposited in a landfill.

The GMB has also started 3 landfills at Alangone, which have a capacity of 48,000 cubic metres.

The process of decontaminating asbestos is expensive - the very fact that France chose only to clean partially the Clemenceau is an indicator of this. And the row created over the arrival of the ship by Greenpeace has gained further momentum with the purchase of an asbestos decontamination unit that Shree Ram Vessel Scrap Pvt. Ltd. says is currently on board the Clemenceau.

It is this expense (costs were not obtainable) that led SCMC member Dr. Claude Alvares to comment to Frontline: "As a result of all these measures, the number of active shipbreaking plots has come down from 180 to less than 50. So the environment and worker conditions are slowly killing the industry... Bangladeshi and Chinese shipbreaking yards are the main beneficiaries."

It has to be emphasised that it is not the regulations that are killing the industry, but the unwillingness of shipbreakers to spend from their profits and purchase the necessary decontamination equipment. The current argument used by shipbreakers against improvement is that it is not worth their while considering the slump in the industry. The fact remains that even when Alang was at peak production, the existing Red Cross hospital onsite was nothing more than a first aid centre with skeletal services.

absence of safety goggles and other equipment is common in small-scale industries related to shipbreaking, such as this scrapyard in Bhavnagar
The shipbreakers' belief that safety norms are adequate at Alang is contradicted by the saying "Alang se palang" [From Alang to deathbed] which is common among Alang's workers. The saying pithily conveys the fact that anyone who works in Alang will sooner or later end up in hospital.

Then (as now) all those injured have to make the one-hour-long journey to Bhavnagar's Civil Hospital or to a private practitioner in Bhavnagar. A recent look at the Civil Hospital records showed that no patient had been admitted from Alang in the last 6 months. This, however, can be attributed to the slowing down of work in the yards than to any special provisions for worker safety.

Dr. Sanjay Parikh, an orthopaedic surgeon who owns a private hospital in Bhavnagar, recalls the cases that came to him when he started his practice in 1994. According to him, the majority of the cases were head injuries and polytrauma of the lower limbs, mostly caused through crushing by heavy weights.

From 1994 to about 2002, when Alang was booming, Parikh saw about 8 polytrauma patients a month and 40 to 50 small fracture outpatient department patients.

He says fellow private practitioners in orthopaedics, as well as other branches, saw many Alang patients but no comprehensive record of this was immediately available. Indeed, one of the reasons why shipbreakers preferred to send patients to private doctors despite the extra costs (borne by themselves) was, as Parikh said, "to avoid the medico-legal hassles" though he reported the cases that came to him.

Parikh says that though cases usually reached him as soon as possible, the emergency care onsite is negligible. "They have nil primary treatment at Alang. Not even an intravenous drip for bleeding fractures. The majority of my patients would arrive in a state of shock because of a loss of fluids. Some died in transit.

Just the use of an endotracheal tube for a head injury drastically increases his [a patient's] chances of survival. But they cannot even provide this." In many of the polytrauma cases, patients were disabled permanently. With shortened limbs or severe knee problems, re-employment at Alang was not likely. "Compensation seems to have been a problem because many would come back and ask for a disability certificate," said Parikh.

Monitoring the safety of workers is easier at Alang than monitoring the environment. Obvious infringements like dumping waste thermocol and asbestos can be monitored; an assessment of water pollution is more difficult because of the tidal nature of the Gulf of Khambat, which washes away residue. An analysis done by Dr. Prashant Bhatt, Professor of analytical chemistry at Bhavnagar University, shows that there is a heavy concentration of toxic metals in the inter-tidal zone near Alang. His study, conducted over a 2-year period, concluded that even if the industry were shut down, deposits would be present for the next 20 years.

Bhatt is among the few people who have suggested that dry-docking be initiated at Alang. "This will avoid cutting ships while still afloat and hence avoid water pollution." Cutting is forbidden but continues because of the physical restrictions of bringing a large vessel closer to land in its original size. Bhatt has also conducted a study of the subsidiary industries around shipbreaking and found that while shipyards are subjected to monitoring, ancillary industries are not. "The actual pollution occurs at steel re-rolling mills. Once the steel plate is removed from the ship it goes to the mill where it is put straight into the furnace. No cleaning is done. All the volatile organic matter of marine paint and anti-fouling paints - that is lead, arsenic, pesticides - goes straight into the furnace. The resultant air is highly toxic." So toxic is the air that Bhatt says that foundries in the area around steel re-rolling mills have been complaining of corrosion. "The main corrosion problem occurs in the monsoon when the rains bring down all the toxic materials as acid rain," he says.

Some ideas of the intentions of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) are seen from the fact that the department has only just set up an office at Bhavnagar. Earlier Alang was the responsibility of the Rajkot office, about 178 km away. The office is still understaffed, with 4 environment engineers and 6 laboratory scientists. Basic monitoring tools and a laboratory are yet to be sanctioned for the Bhavnagar office. Monitoring the landfills is also the GPCB's responsibility. A system of record-keeping exists, but prior to the landfills there was no record of any of the hazardous waste at Alang.

An official who declined to be identified said, "The idea of landfills has been around since 1996 but the will to use them and implement safety procedures is very recent." The magnitude of the GPCB's task is understood when it is seen that a GPCB official needs to be present on every ship prior to its being allowed to be beached. An average inspection takes about 6 hours. In the present condition with few ships at Alang an inspection can be carried out with some degree of thoroughness, but the integrity of this is likely to be compromised if the number of ships increases. While there seems to be a general but guarded consensus that the situation in Alang is improving, the proof of it will only be seen once the yards are fully functional. Then, in the toss-up between maximising profit and minimising worker injury and environmental damage, the real concerns of the shipbreakers will be clear.

Source: Frontline (Volume 23 - Issue 02, Jan. 28 - Feb. 10, 2006) By Lyla Bavadam

08 February 2006

Don’t put Clemenceau and Norway in same category:

Letter To The Editor:

SIR, I write in response to the continuing attention by the media and non-governmental organisations on efforts to recycle the Clemenceau and the SS Norway.

These ships are being lumped into a single category of “what is wrong with ship recycling”. Further inspection, however, shows a significant difference in the efforts of the two ownership groups to engage in responsible ship recycling for their respective vessels. 


The Clemenceau has received the lion’s share of attention in the media, and various nations have bowed to politics and responded by making irrational decisions, disallowing the ship to even enter their territorial waters. But what steps have actually taken place, amid the controversy and confusion, to ensure that the Clemenceau is recycled in a responsible manner?

First, the French government performed, at least some, pre-cleaning work and removed significant amounts of asbestos from the ship. Questions remain as to the amount of asbestos remaining, but some level of remediation has occurred. 

French Warship - The Clemenceau
Next, the ship was sold for recycling at Alang, with a reported additional involvement of an environmental engineering firm that is to be involved in further remediation and disposal of hazardous materials at Alang.

Despite NGO claims that Alang has “no facility for handling of PCBs, etc” (‘Clemenceau likely to contain cancer-causing PCBs’; newKarala.com), the Gujarat Maritime Board launched a new hazardous waste reception facility in 2005, specifically for the treatment and disposal of such materials near Alang.

In summary, the French government has:

1) Performed some level of remediation work to clean the Clemenceau of asbestos, and
2) Sold the ship to a shipyard that has reported the involvement of an environmental remediation firm to handle additional hazardous materials from the ship upon arrival. If proper reporting and project transparency are involved in the latter stages of this operation, it would appear that this project is being developed, theoretically, in an environmentally and occupationally responsible manner.

SS Norway:

According to Greenpeace, the SS Norway is known to hold approximately 1,200 tons of asbestos and will surely hold significant amounts of PCBs and other hazardous materials.

To date, no reports have been made as to any agreements for the proper removal and disposal of these hazardous materials. The fate of the Norwayis yet unknown, so the possibility exists that proper remediation work may eventually occur.

However, to date this is not the case. So why is all the attention then focused on Clemenceau and almost nothing on Norway?

One owner has apparently made significant strides toward responsible ship recycling and the other appears to have made no effort whatsoever to reach this goal. Secondly, one ship allegedly has almost 40 times more asbestos than the other. Yet, the world seems to be silent. Could it be that western governments make soft, juicy targets?

While intense pressure from NGOs have led to increased awareness on ship recycling as a whole, strides to actually conduct responsible ship recycling in India should be recognised as such, and not merely discarded as more of the same.

Ted Higson, Consultant, Global Ship Recycling Solutions LLC, United States

Source: Llyoid’s List. LetterToTheEditor. By Ted Higson. 8 February 2006