29 August 2009

Obama's EPA Allows Toxic Navy Ships to Be Dumped In Bangladesh:

Ships Likely to be Scrapped on Beach by Unprotected Workers in Violation of Law

BAN Media Release
27 August 2009 (Norfolk, Virginia.) – Last night, the ship ANDERS (former M/V PVT. JAMES ANDERSON, JR), sailed out of Norfolk, Virginia with the likely destination being the infamous shipbreaking beaches of Bangladesh.[1] According to the Environmental watchdog group Basel Action Network (BAN), the export marks the first time the U.S. government has allowed a U.S. flagged ship in the service of the government to be sent to South Asian beaches since the Clinton Administration called for a moratorium on such exports in 1998.[2] The moratorium followed a Pulitzer Prize winning expose published by the Baltimore Sun[3] highlighting the inhumane and environmentally devastating conditions in the South Asian shipbreaking yards.

The ANDERS and her sister ship BONNY (M/V 1ST LT. ALEX BONNYMAN) which is expected to likewise sail later today, were allowed to be sold, re-flagged and exported by the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) despite the fact that these transactions were likely in violation of the Jones Act, regarding U.S. flagged ships, and because the ships are of the vintage that contain high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in their construction, were likely in violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA forbids the export or the "distribution in commerce" of PCBs. The Basel Action Network (BAN) had previously sent a series of letters to the EPA and MARAD warning them of the imminent and likely violations of U.S. laws and called specifically upon the EPA to at least require the ships to be tested for PCBs prior to export. But to the great surprise of the environmental watchdog organization, that had worked with the EPA in numerous instances in the past, the Obama administration refused to act.[4]

"This is really shocking. All through the Bush Administration the EPA took action every time we warned them of a pending TSCA violation and their record of enforcement was strong. Now we have elected an environmental president and his administration for the first time in ten years is willing to ignore the law and dump toxic waste onboard U.S. flagged ships on developing countries," said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of Basel Action Network (BAN).

Today, sadly, little has changed to improve the conditions of the workers in India and Bangladesh since the Baltimore Sun articles and subsequent export moratorium 11 years ago. Already this year 9 persons have died outright from occupational accidents in Bangladesh. Just last month 6 workers were cooked inside a ship after it caught fire in an Indian breaking yard due to shipbreaker owner negligence. Many more suffer the longer term impacts of asbestos and toxic fumes from cutting torches and the local environment is completely contaminated by toxic chemicals and fuel residues. However it is far more profitable for all concerned to send ships to South Asia than to properly recycle them here in the U.S.

The Anders and the Bonny were constructed in Odense, Denmark (1979 and 1980) and have operated for the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) since they were imported to the U.S. for conversion from commercial cargo ships in 1982. The Wilmington Trust Corporation owned the vessels for the benefit of Phillip Morris, Inc. who chartered the vessels to the MSC, with shipping giant Maersk operating the ships on MSC’s behalf. MSC’s charter was terminated on July 15, 2009 (27 year charter) when the vessels were sold to an unknown company called Star Maritime Corporation. BAN's subsequent research revealed that Star Maritime is merely a Delaware mailbox company. Star does not have a U.S. address or place of business and records show they were subject to a mere $75 in taxes to the State of Delaware in 2008. They have never filed a 10K annual report to the Securities Exchange Commission. Under the Jones Act, it is unlawful to sell a U.S. flagged vessel to a foreign citizen and it appears that Star Maritime was the domestic entity created by foreign shipscrappers to obtain U.S. ships. However, so far BAN has found no evidence of a U.S. citizen that owns or is linked to Star Maritime in any way.

According to BAN's sources, the real buyer of the ship appears to be a Mr. Mohammed Tahir Lakhani of Dubai[5] who industry insiders have indicated has already sold the vessel onward to Bangladesh shipbreaker Mr. Haji Lokman Hossain. Mr. Lakhani owns the United Eastern Trading Company in London and is partner in Dubai Trading Agency, one of the world’s largest cash buyers for ship scrapping in the world. This information was confirmed when Mr. Suryakant Pai of United Eastern Trading and Lakhani's financial manager, sent a letter to the EPA and MARAD discounting the claim that the vessels were destined for scrapping. Mr. Pai’s letter was on letterhead shared by United Eastern and Star Maritime, with the contact e-mail address of demo@unitedeastern.co.uk.

Once the sale to the shell company Star Maritime was approved by MARAD, they then authorized the reflagging of the vessels because Star made claims that the ships would not be scrapped but rather used commercially. These claims belied numerous reports in trade journals that the ships were sold by Wilmington Trust for scrap. Once the ships were re-flagged then they could be legally sent for scrapping and MARAD could wash their hands of the issue entirely. This crafty maneuvering appears to have been accepted by EPA and MARAD as they willingly approved the sale, reflagging and export despite BAN’s repeated warnings of who the true owners were and the violation of the spirit if not the letter of the Jones Act and the Toxics Substances Control Act. EPA decided not to investigate further despite the fact that BAN produced a Navy report produced by the RAND Corporation that indicated ships of 1979 and 1980 build dates, routinely contained PCBs.

"It is outrageous that these ships were allowed to sail, but this story is far from over. Obama's EPA and Maritime Administration will have to explain how it is that these ships, mixed up with giant U.S. conglomerates such as Philip Morris and Maersk, were so easily able to circumvent US enforcement and break with the government's long-standing moral moratorium against dumping US flagged ships into the environmental hell of South Asian shipbreaking yards," said Colby Self, BAN's Green Ship Recycling Campaign Director. "Meanwhile we will be warning Bangladesh to bar the entry of these renegade vessels."

Under the Basel Convention, it is illegal for Bangladesh to import toxic waste from the United States. The negligence of the U.S. government in this case could well become an international incident.

Colby Self (206) 250-5652, colby.self@gmail.com
Jim Puckett, (206) 652-5555, jpuckett@ban.org
(1) Coast Guard Confirmed 23.00 hrs EST, ship sailed for Santos, Brazil.
(4) Most recent plea to EPA from BAN:

Source: Basel Action Network (BAN). 27 August 2009

26 August 2009

Halt the export of the recently reflagged ships Anders and Bonny: BAN

August 26, 2009
Mr. Mathy V. Stanislaus, EPA Assistant Administrator for Solid Wastes
Ms. Michelle DePas, EPA Assistant Administrator for International Activitie
Mr. Frank McAlister, Solid Waste
Mr. Michael Bellot, Enforcement

USEPA Headquarters 
Ariel Rios Building 
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W. 
Washington, DC 20460 

Dear Mr. Mathy Stanislaus, Ms. Michelle De Pass, Mr. Michael Bellot, and Mr. Frank McAlister:

The EPA must act today to halt the export of the recently reflagged ships Anders and Bonny until such time as tests are conducted to determine whether the ships contain regulatory levels of PCBs which would be a violation of the Toxics Substances Control Act. THESE SHIPS ARE SCHEDULED to SAIL from NORFOLK TODAY AND TOMORROW. THEY WILL SAIL WITHOUT AN EPA ORDER REQUIRING PRIOR TESTING.

In a conversation with Frank McAlister yesterday, it was clear to BAN that the EPA was going to take a calculated risk that the ships were unlikely to possess PCBs and therefore they would exercise discretion to not require the owners to test the ship. This flies in the face of precedent set under the Bush administration to test the USS Crescent City (aka Artship), the SS Oceanic, the MV Sanctuary, and most recently the Horizon Crusader.   

The evidence of likely PCBs is compelling and therefore we cannot understand this decision. It appears to be based on politics or economics and not on science or the facts which are:

1.  In the famous RAND report, prepared for the US Navy in 2001, entitled  "Disposal Options for Ships" (available upon request from BAN), tests were carried out on various ships in the MARAD and Naval fleets for PCBs. Six ships were tested that were built in 1979 and 1980, the years that the Anders and Bonny were built.  Of the 6, two were found to contain either liquid or solid PCBs at regulatory levels.  

John A Moore, 1979 - NO
Kidd, 1979 - NO 
Estocin, 1979 - Yes
Merrimack, 1980 - Yes 
Yellowstone, 1979 - NO 
Monongahela, 1979 - NO

Further, a careful reading of the RAND report indicates that some of the tests of the ships that were negative above were not in fact tested for solid PCBs and thus may very well have tested positive were the proper tests carried out.   

From Page 110:

22.  PCBs. These are PCB data derived from four PCB analysis databases provided by NAVSEA 00T and from a 1997 MARAD report. A yes (Y) indicates that samples of solid and liquid materials in the ship were taken and that materials containing 50 parts per million or more PCBs were found.  A no (N) indicates that samples were taken and no materials containing 50 parts per million or more PCBs were found. A dash indicates that no samples were taken. Note that an entry of Y or N does not indicate that ship-to-ship sampling was uniform. Most N [no] entries are for ships in which only liquids were sampled. Liquids (most often lubricants and hydraulic fluids) rarely contain PCBs above 50 parts per million. See Appendix C for a discussion of PCBs in ships. 

However ignoring for the moment this very important fact, we still have 1/3rd of the tested ships from a government database indicating high levels of PCBs. BAN asks, what is the basis for discounting this data? What kind of risk assessment is EPA using that discounts a probable violation of 33%? It is unconscionable to not require testing given this available data. 

2. According to the Christian Science Monitor somebody at EPA erroneously believes that because the ships were built in Denmark and that Denmark had banned PCB use as of the build dates of 1979 and 1980, that there is unlikely to be a problem. In fact, these are not correct statements.  According to a definitive document on PCBs for the Baltic States, created by the Helsinki Commission, 
Denmark did not ban use until 1986. It is clear from the reading of the section on Denmark in this document that new proposed patents for use were closed in 1977, but Denmark continued to allow the use of existing patented products such as gaskets, flooring, insulation, cables etc. containing PCBs until 1986.  Bear in mind that many uses of PCBs in solid matrix form were not recognized by regulators despite widespread use in products. 

3.  Further the EPA official cited in the Christian Science Monitor stated that because the ships were retrofitted in the US in 1982, that they would have been repainted with non-PCB containing paints.   It must be understood that repainting of vessels rarely implies removing paints to the bare metal.  Rather, PCB paints would simply have been painted over and would still exists on the ship and still be subject to the TSCA ban. Further it is more likely the cabling and the gaskets which would not all have been replaced in a retrofit and these are the most likely items to contain the PCBS.

4.  With respect to the issue regarding the reliability of the new owners, BAN has discovered that despite a letter having been sent on supposed Star Maritime letterhead vowing that the ship would be further used and not scrapped we submit the following:  

A. Star Maritime should not be confused with Star Maritime Acquisitions Corp. or Star Bulk Carriers.   Rather Star Maritime is a mailbox company that was set up in Delaware in 2007.  It was subject to taxes of but 75 dollars to the State of Delaware, has not filed a 10K with the Security Exchange Commission and there is no records for this company other than what is reported in the Delaware incorporation database. It appears not to be doing business of any kind other than serving as an address. The letterhead however is very telling in that it lists as coordinates the Delaware registered agent for the company, required by law, if the company does not have a physical address in Delaware, and it lists a UK address of United Eastern Trading with the email of demo@unitedeastern.co.uk. Further the letter is signed by Suryakant Pai (for Star Maritime).  Suryakant Pai is the chief financial officer of the famous ship scrapping cash buyer Mohammed Tahir Lakhani, the owner and CEO of United Eastern and the director of the Dubai Trading Agency.
(http://www.nhstevents.com/events/article525107.ece). The business of Mr. Lakhani is ship demolition, not shipping of cargo. One might wonder why Suryakant Pai is signing a letter for Star Maritime, the ships new owner and why they would not sign the letter themselves. One might also wonder why there is no physical address for Star Maritime in the USA when in fact the ship was supposed to be sold ONLY to US entities according to the law. One might wonder also why the letterhead appears to have been fabricated on the spot.   This is because Star Maritime is most probably nothing but a shell company for United Eastern. Inside informers that have informed both BAN and Lloyd's List have indicated that the scrapping deal has already been penned between Mr. Lakhani and the Shipbreaking magnate Mr. Lokman in Chittagong Bangladesh.  

EPA must realize that this deal which they have become complicit in, is a ruse to take former ships under the employ of our Navy and send them straight to the beaches of South Asia where they are likely to cause occupational disease, injury and death for which the US may be liable. This will be the first time since the Clinton Administration that the US government is willingly sanctioning and aiding and abetting the dumping of US flagged ships (as of days ago) on the infamous shipbreaking beaches of South Asia.   

We understand these ships are set to sail today. We demand immediate action to prevent this outcome. If these ships sail without testing, we request a meeting in Washington with yourselves to discuss the basis for this very damaging decision made by the Obama Administration. Such a decision would be a devastating blow to the advancement of environmental enforcement and global environmental justice.  

Sincerely yours, 
Jim Puckett
Executive Director, Basel Action Network

Source: Basel Action Network. 26 August 2009

25 August 2009

Danmark to speed up international prohibition of toxic waste exports

Careless handling of toxic waste in poor countries is causing extensive damage to people and the environment every year. Environment minister Troels Lund Poulsen has therefore written to 21 environment ministers in developing countries around the world asking them to ratify the Basel Convention’s ban on the transportation of hazardous waste from rich countries to poor countries. The environment minister is also ready to dispatch a mobile team to help countries implement the ban.

”The illegal export of hazardous waste is a serious matter which I am looking into. Pictures of hazardous waste which has been dumped in poor countries where it constitutes serious health and environmental issues must be a thing of the past. That is why we want more countries to endorse the Basel Convention so that the export ban applies not just to the EU but also to the rest of the world,” says Mr. Lund Poulsen.

The export ban was agreed on in 1995, has been in force in EU member states since 1997, but has not yet been implemented on a worldwide basis, as too few countries have agreed to the rules. Denmark has therefore decided to speed up the process. Mr. Lund Poulsen commented on the initiative saying: "I hope that my letter to key environment ministers and our offer to send a mobile team will help the process move up a gear. Hazardous waste has to be controlled so that human health and our environment are not harmed by careless handling of, for example, toxic and chemical waste.”

There are industrial as well as developing countries on the list of countries that have not yet agreed to the ban, including, for example, a number of key countries such as the USA, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. We therefore need international pressure to turn the agreement into a worldwide reality.

The environment minister’s letter is part of a project which comes under the remit of the Nordic Council which Denmark is coordinating. The letters have been sent to the environment ministers in the following countries: Mexico, Zambia, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iran, Malawi, Peru, Pakistan, Vietnam, Senegal, the Seychelles and Namibia.

Source: RecyclingPortal.EU (Ministry of the Environment, Denmark). 24 August 2009

13 August 2009

On The Face Of Death--- Workers Plight in Alang Shipbreaking Yard

"If I go to Alang maybe one person will die, but if I stay five people will die” says the worker.

Alang is again in news for a short time . The death of six workers in Alang Ship yard has again brought the plight of workers in ship breaking yard into focus temporarily after the Clemenceau and Blue Lady episodes. The group of six labourers had climbed on the ship on 4th August morning to bring down cables of the ship. When they reached engine room of MSC Jessica, and started cutting operation, fire broke out in engine room. The six workers were charred to death. This is not the first time that workers were charred to death or crushed by the crane. One worker died in month of May and another in June.

Death of workers have become routine affair and least cared. In last few months there were death in Adani power station, Tata’s Nano factory construction in Sanand and now in again in Alang. concern over the death of one worker and six injured workers, working in the NANO car project in Sanand,. of TATA. This is the second incident of death of workers after the incident in Shiracha Power Plant of ADANI. , near Mundra .

The Alang-Sosiya Ship-Breaking Yard (ASSBY) located in the Gulf of Cambay in the Bhavnagar District of Gujarat State in India is the biggest shipbreaking yard in Asia employing more than thousand workers dwindling from 10.000 to 40.000.There are around ten villages in the vicinity of ASSBY. They are Alang, Sosiya, Manar, Sathara, Kathwa, Bharapara, Mathavada, Takhatgadh (chopda), Jasapara and Mandva in 12 KM vicinity of sea coast. Conflict and amity is an usual phenomenon of the migrants with the locale. But segregation compel most of the migrants to stay in mushrooming slums which is humanly inhabitable in normal condition and full with the dust of asbestos.. Few stay in rented houses in different villages.The locals are content with small and medium business due to ASSBY. 99% migrants are engaged in shipbreaking in comparison to only less than 1% local people. The migrants mostly from Orissa, UP. Bihar, Jharkhand etc. are very laborious.So the ship breakers prefer migrants in ship breaking more than the local people which is a very normal practice in Gujarat including in power loom sector at Surat, Salt factory at Kandla etc.There are 178 plots ASSBY that dismantle more than 2.5 million tons of material round the year and where 30 ships can be brokered in a month with an annual turnover of 3,500 crore. There are 2 departments to look after all these – one is Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and another is Controller of Explosion (CoE). For breaking ship no- objection certificate is issued by GMB and cleaning certificate is issued by CoE.

Alang is the classical case of violation of least regard for environment which is sacrificed for the fake economics growth.. Alang appears to be a place of Garbage Sale. Alang is not SEZ but SEZ like situation prevails. The press people cannot have free access. It is a place that symbolises the greed and exploitation, business by deceit violating all human norms and morals. The deaths and injuries are very common in Alang In May and June the death of workers was caused due to the crane’s rope carrying big steel plates cut from discarded ships broke and fell on them. Only Rs 30,000 was given to their families as expenses for performing his last rites reacting to the meagre compensation, one of the worker said , “In cases of injuries, no case is ever registered. The ship-breaking companies at best give some token compensation for medical expenses.” This is the reason why these companies never employ any worker permanently.” Said the one of the workers. Where as Mr. V H Patel, Deputy Director of the Inspectorate of Factories at Alang, claims that proper compensation to victims’ families has been paid. There is no medical insurance for the workers.

This year in June. perhaps for the first time about 15.000 workers were in strike demanding workers colony, wage hike, hospitals, schools. As per the version of the Union leader of Alang Sosiya Ship Recycling and General Workers Association (ASSRGWA) since 1982, no basic amenities are provided to the workers though the Ship breaking is recognized as an industry. But Mr. Nikhil Gupta, joint secretary of Ship Recycling Association of India says that the workers are paid much more than the base daily wages amount ranging from Rs 128 to 136 for different categories. He alleged that the ’few elements from outside Alang trying to provoke workers for their vested interest." Similarly Green peace has been accused of defaming Alang, as a part of conspiracy. THE Alang Shipbreaking Yard has came into existence in the year 1982 There are 183 plots spread over around 10 kin long stretch along the sea coast of Alang & Sosia, -The first ship its first vessel — MV Kota Tenjong beached at Alang Ship Breaking Yard on 13th February, 1983. Alang beached 4,539 ships between 1983 and 2008 and handled tonnage to the tune of 3,19,89400 LDT (light displacement tonnage). During its prime in 1998-99, Alang handled a record 361 ships with 30,37,882 LDT. About 40. 000 workers were working in the peak period.

10.000 tons are scraped daily in Alang. The scraping meets 10 to 15% of country’s need. With 2.5m tones of steel a year feed 120 rolling mills in the country. earns 600 crs. to Govt. coffer.Tadaja out post earn Rs.70.000/ every day. GMB earned 100 cr. as premium from plot leases and 35 cr. as rent annually. 95 % are high quality steel. The purpose of dismantling is to recover steel and rest 5% are none steel matters which has to be separated from steel. This separation is the most risky one. These 5% are also consumer items old in local market in cheaper price. There is a heavy demand for all those items.

Though there is global melt down but the it is a boon to ship breaking. Right now near about 200 ship are in wait for dismantling.. "Alang is all set to set a new record in scrapping largest number of ships in 2009 as more than 600 ships are available for dismantling in the international market due to slowdown in the global trades," said Vishnu Gupta, President of Alang Ship Breakers’ Association. The greed of Shipbreaking and recycling is so much that Alang is not free from explosives.

Right now a ship named" Britain Star" carrying huge explosives has arrived in polt no-60 arrived on 11th August, which has taken away the sleep of the administration and the people of near by areas are scared.

Unhealthy condition of workers and the contamination Most of the workers suffer from cholera, typhoid, and urticaria.. 8 person per 10000 suffer from urticaria where as in Alang it is 97%.

Average 30 mishaps takes place every day. They are fatal. The have to be rushed to Bhavnagr. There is no well equipped hospital. It is presumed that Asia’s biggest ship-breaking yard, is sitting on AIDS bomb. There are so far 75 confirmed HIV cases reported at Bhavnagar Hospital. There is no dearth of hooch too, which is operating under the very nose of the Police, though there is prohibition law in the state.

The Supreme Court Supreme Court-appointed two-member committee in collaboration with the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad last year, to asses the health of the workers. The committee came out with the report that fatal accident rate in ship-breaking industry is in the range of 2 per 1000 as opposed to 0.34 per 1000 in the mining industry. But according to the Greenpeace and the International Federation of Human Rights the fatal accident rate at Alang is at 50-60 per year. This is considered the worst in the world, and 16 per cent of workers here are suffering asbestos related diseases. But from 1983 until 2004, the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) acknowledged 372 deaths. It is difficult to asses the exact number of deaths as the dead bodies are disposed off in secret and no records are maintained or available.

Every sixth worker handling asbestos in the ship-breaking industry has shown signs of asbestosis from chest X-rays.16% which could further lead to lung cancer. According to Greenpeace, the soil and water levels around the Alang yard on the western coast are filled with dangerously high levels of toxic wastes. Extremely high levels of asbestos, heavy metals like arsenic, chromium, cadmium and hazardous and carcinogenic chemicals have been found near here.

One kg of soil of Alang contains 77 mg chromium, 90 mg iron,108 nichel,112 copper,35 mg arsenic,2mg lead,74 mg zinc.

Lead is poisonous for blood, kidney and nerves. Arsenic poisoning also too hazardous. The remnants of hazardous elements will be there for 10 to 20 years with out carrying the activities of ship breaking. But it is termed as ‘with in permitted limit’. Surprisingly the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Oscar Fernandez, recently stated in Lok Sabha, last time that the workers in Alang are undergoing regular medical check up and no worker is found to be suffering from asbestosis.

One of the officers on Special Duty, GMB, said: “The penal provisions under the GMB Ship Recycling Regulations 2003, which include a fine of Rs 1,000 for a minor safety norm violation and operational suspension for a major one, are also being strictly enforced.” GMB is satisfied that T 20.000 workers are trained and there have been no fatal accidents over the last two years. Use of Helmets, gloves are promised by the shipbreakers but it is a mockery as the ship breakers would say the helmet or the gloves do not save lives. those using the helmet and gloves are ridiculed and the GMB is not at all serious about the matter. The GMB is more for the ship breakers than the workers. Of course the Surakhya Divas (Safety Day) are observed with much fan fare and at times the Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi join the functions of Surakhya Divas and declare special packages foe shipbreaking and public-private partnership (PPP) model in an apparent bid to infuse life into the ’dying’ shipbreaking industry and to make Alang perform as per the international standards and to also promote it as a “green recycling facility” by using higher-end technologies But hardly there is any reference to the welfare of the workers.

Workers whose responsibility?
GMB officers at Alang say that the labourers are not the GMB’s responsibility as it does not employ them. ``So there is no question of owning up for their welfare,’ But one of the officers says that competition for jobs is so intense that workers can lose their jobs for being ill. "If you fall sick and take leave, there will be no job for you when you come back. under this circumstances of disowning the workers one can understand the plight of workers in Alang.

“If I go to Alang maybe one person will die, but if I stay five people will die"

This is the core of the reasons that lakhs migrate from their home state. this very aspect reflects the economic condition of the people The mad , desperate compulsion of the rural populace of rural India to migrate to the world of uncertainty and probable death again reflect the health of our country after the 62 years of independence.

The responses from the host states are too very shocking. The host states do least bother for their brethren people flocking to far land for bread. There is hue and cry when some thing happens in Australia but the Govt. care least for the migrating people. They never express or discus the plight of the migrants in the floor of the Assembly. Nor the labour officer rushes to the guest states to monitor whether Intra State Migration Acts and the labour laws are properly operative or not. The host states are happy to get rid of un employed s and over and above richer by Money Order economy. Due to this in different attitude of the host states the Ship breakers do not care to pay any attention to the workers. As if they are obliging the migrants offering a job in the ship breaking Yard.

The railway trains in the country are routed to ferry the migrant workers to the destination uncertainty. The heart throbbing scenes of departures in the station of the migrants every day can remind the migration Burma and Rangoon in British India. An English film was made named Wages of Fear in 1950s. The film depicts the unemployed youths ready to take any risk to earn bread. There are wages of fear every where in the world of the poor country. The rich countries survive on the wages of fear of the poor, developing and under developed country. In Alang it is rather "Dare for the Wage".

In the circus, the man enters the well of death in the motorcycle with the breathless silence of the audience. But in Alang the workers do not have any breathless audience to sympathise with them. Rather they have mercy less shipbreakers, GMB and the Govt. Alang come under GMB, Gujarat Govt. But so many ministries have their stake here too. Ministry Industry, Commerce, Health, Labour, Law etc have their role in the ship breaking yard. Except the ministry of industry and commerce, whose main concern is revenue, others hardly play their designated role. Ministry of health appears once in every year, on AIDs day. Ministry of environment is the slave to the dictum of LPG and some time barks to show it’s existence.Alang is not a SEZ but it is like a SEZ.

The working conditions in a shipbreaking yard are such that life is cheaper than steel. As quoted in the Times of India dated 23.05.03, "Taking cognizance of frequent deaths at the yard due to lack of safety measures Gujarat High Court has directed the state government in 1997 with a legal framework to regulate the shipbreaking activities, ’ship recycling yard regulation’ – popularly known as Alang regulation. The new legal framework was put in place by enshrining it in the state government Gazette in August 2000. However, vested interests view it as an infringement on free activity that can be carried out in absence of safety measures. Hence, the Alang Act was never implemented".

The nexus of Government officials, contractors and businessmen operating in that area ensure that the workers are not registered, do not get identity card by the employers, no information of working condition, false name are entered in the log book to evade to legal compensation in any eventuality.

Under these circumstances it is high time for the intervention of higher authorities in the administration, government, civil liberties organization, labour organizations to come forward and take up the issue. Often media highlight the problems of Alang. But the authority has never paid any serious attention.

A survey was conducted in 1999 by Bhavnagar University. Out of 361 workers 14 face accident, 11 suffer from burn, 14 from injuries. Only 10 wear helmets, 1 have the glove, and 3 uses welding glasses. 32 receive informal training, where as rest are untrained. So the crude and obsolete technology is the backbone of the shipbreaking enterprises. GMB is only interested in revenue collection without much liability for the workers. Profit maximization is the main Mantra of the Govt. by reducing the cost of shipbreaking. Though the Gujarat Govt is earning Rupees 3200 cores annually from the shipbreaking, the Govt. is least attention environment and workers welfare.

The Green Peace has come out with a powerful document titled, "End of Life Ships: The Human Cost of Breaking Ships," documents, with interviews and photographs, the horrific conditions at Alan in 2005.

Virtually Alang is becoming the dumping ground of the developed country. Alang appears to be a place of Garbage Sale an epitome of globalization of waste violating all norms and guidelines of thre Basel Convention to which Govt. of India is a signatory. Basel Convention regulates the trans-border movement of hazardous wastes but violated by the rich country and India is allowing hazardous substance in the name of development. On 2003,the Supreme Court declared , “before a ship arrives at port, it should have proper consent from the concerned authority or the state Maritime Board, stating that it does not contain any hazardous wastes or radioactive substances”,. The government law states that “the ship-recycler shall not allow waste materials such as oil-cakes, scrap iron and other metallic and rubber pieces to be thrown into the sea or the seashore”,

There are 2 departments to look after all these –
1. Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and
2. Controller of Explosion (CoE).

For breaking ship no- objection certificate is issued by GMB and cleaning certificate is issued by CoE. We quote from the Times of India report published on 22.05.03 "Serious doubts are being raised over the way no objection certificates are doled out by regulating agencies like the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and the Controller of Explosion (CoE).----Though the GMB authorities continue to blame ship-owners after every mishaps, it is the system failure which is the root cause.---there is hardly any accountability on the part of various agencies that issue clearance certificates to ensure safety of workers. Incase of "Inville", authorities had issued safety clearance certifying the ship was fit for breaking .The Controller of Explosion had granted the "man entry", "gas free "and "hot work" approval certificate before dismantling commenced. Despite CoE clearance presence of hydrocarbon and gases in the interior of Inville" was detected." It is surprising how the certificates were granted there are ample traces of gases, Sulpher, furnace oil and other materials, which can wreak havoc if exposed to heat" said an official of Forensic Science Laboratory. While GMB officer in charge ----admits "probably there are lot of areas which are ignored.” And with Coe having it’s office in Vadodara, functioning often becomes difficult Sources reveal that certificates are granted on mere verbal assurance and without any physical inspection. .Ship-owners often do not wait for all clearances certificates, says sources .With the prices of steel the prime extract from the ship, varying on day to day basis, ship breakers soften flout norms to sell off the scrap when prices go up .Some times , even ship breaking guide lines are ignored and interiors of the ship, which are normally broken down at the end of the operation, are dismantled earlier as there is good market for these products. This endangers the lives of 6the labourers as they working suffocating and unventilated compartments, amidst hazardous gases. The role of GMB in granting certificates is also being questioned. Even after a ship breaker obtains certificates from the Coe, it is the duty of the GMB to verify them before the final go ahead is granted. And the GMB has just a chief officer and three safety supervisors who are expected to completely survey the ship. “There could be slip-ups which come to light only after mishaps" admits Captain Deukar Of the 3 safety supervisors, only one is permanent employee, the others being on contract". This very Report exposes serious loopholes.

Many ships enter illegally with the full knowledge of the GMB and hope to manage to stay for scraping. Many ships move here and there, some time to Pipavav port and fiannly shelterd in Alang. The shipbreakers are confidence of manipulating and getting the sanctions.

Clemencueau and Blue Lady episode

Alang was in world watch during the Clemensue episode followd by the Blue Lady, The Clemencueau was to be sent back because of the popular protest in France and global pressure created by green peace. Of course the Supreme Court of India too ruled out the entry of Clemenceau but at the same time allowed the Blue Lad to be dismantled. The French Ambassador did every thing to convince the India Govt. and the authority that the Clemeceau did not carry any hazardous materials. The Ministry of Environment was avoiding the responsibility on Clemenceau and pushed the it to Supreme Court. The Govt. of Gujarat and the ship breakers were worried of the withdrawl of Clemenceau from Alang. There were demonstrations against the Green peace in Bhavnagar. Even the workers were waiting breathlessly for the clearance of Clemenceau. For them it was the question of bread and livelihood.

On January 17, 2006, the Supreme Court of India observed: "We do not want the environment to be polluted. When the French Government had not permitted the ship to be broken there, why should we allow the ship to come to India? Whether breaking the ship will result in pollution or not is immaterial. The best thing will be to ask the ship to go back from where it started."

But after 2 months passed a shocking judgment on Blue Lady," In its order on 11 September, the Supreme Court said," It cannot be disputed that no development is possible without some adverse effect on the ecology and environment, and the projects of public utility cannot be abandoned and it is necessary to adjust the interest of the people as well as the necessity to maintain the environment. A balance has to be struck between the two interests. Where the commercial venture or enterprise would bring in results which are far more useful for the people, difficulty of a small number of people has to be bypassed. The comparative hardships have to be balanced and the convenience and benefit to a larger section of the people has to get primacy over comparatively lesser hardship."

The Supreme Court also did not consider the application filed by Bhagvat Sinh Haluba Gohil, Sarpanch, Village Sosiya, Tehsil Talaja, and District Bhanvnagar on behalf of 30, 000 villagers and 12 panchayats of Bhavnagar district of Gujarat. The villagers pleaded, "Blue Lady" (SS Norway) be not allowed to be dismantled at the Alang Shipbreaking yard." The villagers have argued that "The dismantling of the ship would have hazardous effect on the residents of the villages near the Alang shipbreaking yard as the ship contains large amount of asbestos which, when exposed is hazardous to the health of the residents living in the twelve villages." The Supreme Court too disliked the trial by media with the following words. "We are shocked to find demonstrations are held and articles written, and if anyone is found to be doing so, he should prima facie be held for contempt of court and suitable action be taken against him," Judge Arijit Pasayat told the court. At time there are world wide attention for Alang on various issues. The Green peace, the foreign media BBC, Guardian, New York Times and important dailies try to high lights the issues related to environment and the exploitation of cheap labour. But the regional media is out and out unsympathetic to the plight of workers and the issues of environments. Raising the these issues is considered as snatching away the ship breaking yard from Alang to China, Bangladesh , Pakistan or other places. The attitude is at any cost the business must go on. This same attitude is harbouerd by the Govt. of Gujarat too. In spite of global attention on Alnag there is no respite and there is no intervention from Central Govt. or any quarter either for the benefit of the workers or to save the environments.

After the Clemenceau thousand of workers went back to their home land to tell the untold story of exploitation before the media, because the both National as well as the International medias shadows the workers to high light about the plight of the workers due to unsafe working condition and the violation of all norms. (A TV crew from Paris interviewed the present writer who was later held up by the police in Bhavnagar).

Though Alang was in the world watch of the media the workers lamented of loosing the bread due to the call back of Clemenceau which was compensated after allowing the Blue Lady.

The teams after teams has visited Alang and surprisingly all the teams were satisfied. All the teams were in one opinion that there is threat form asbestos but it is with in the permitted limit. The body appointed by SC,  Parliamentary body, a team of ILO and World Bank – were with the same opinion of Metallurgical & Engineering Consultants (India) Limited (MECON) and Gujarat Ecology commission of Gujarat is well within legal parameters,

Only the media and that too national and international media and the green peace are of different opinion. Now the UPA Govt. has decided to go ahead with approved Gujarat’s Mithivirdi (Chhaya) site in Bhavnagar district for an 8,000 MW nuclear power plant. The People are protesting against it. This will be another bone of contention in coming days.

The Alang Shipyard incident raises these following questions –

1) Safety norms
2) Plight of the migrant workers
3) And violation of all acts.

And so these measures should be taken with utmost care-

1- First all kind safety measures be taken to avoid accidents and deaths
2- Shipbreaking should be considered as an Industry and comes under Factory Act and various provisions for safety as per Factory Act be Safety consciousness as a Culture be developed.
3- Shipbreaking be made updated with improved technology.
4- All workers be given primary training about shipbreaking and be provided with safety kits compulsorily.
5- GMB should be made responsible for all lapses and responsible officials be punished for all lapses.
6- The workers should be given Identity Card; Appointment Card by the employers and Labour Dept. should follow strict vigilance in this regard.
7- Interstate Migrant Workers Act be applied which ensures accommodation, medical facilities, traveling allowances.
8- Human Right of all migrant workers and members of their families be protected as per the UN CONVENTION ON THE PROTECTION OF THE MIGRANT WORKERS AND MEMBERS OF THEIR FAMILIES.
9- Shipbreaking can only be after decontamination of the hazardous substance.
10- A mandatory rule be framed to compel the owners of the ship to clean their ships before exporting them and ensure that tanks are gas free for hot work.
11- A full fledged Fire fighting unit with adequate number of trained fire fighters be kept ready round the cloak.
12- Eight hour working hour norms with weekly paid holidays workers be introduced.
13- A well equipped hospitals specially to take care of accidents of the workers be instituted.
14- Adequate death compensation to the members of the families be paid with out any administrative hurdles.
15- Planned accommodation for the workers be made.
16- Long term plan for infrastructure e.g. road, housing, drainage, water, electricity be taken up along with social infrastructure like schools, hospitals etc.
17- Attention be taken to save marine ecology, and ecology imbalance be guarded.
18- Safe guard be taken because of social segregation of the migrants due to cultural divide.
19- The Labour Dept of Gujarat as well as the Labour depts. Of States from where the migration takes place must guard the interest of the migrants and their working conditions.
20- The Human Rights Groups joint Parliamentary teams be allowed to visit the ASSBY and their recommendations be mandatory for the GMB and the Govt of Gujarat.
21- A complain Secret Cell be instituted where the workers can complain fearlessly and get redressal with being sacked from the job.
22- The State from where migration takes place must keep the record of the workers, make routine enquiry about the migrants, and place the report in their respective house of the Assemblies.
23- GMB should take help of experts from different fields like engineers, marine science experts, environmental scientists, and experts in sociology and planning.

Source: Bella Ciao. By Dwarika Nath Rath (dn.rath@gmail.com). 31 August 2009

09 August 2009

The Pitfalls of Recycling Ships:

Ships and shipping have been subject to regulations which seek to minimise pollution and environmental damage for many years. Issues such as the quality of the fuel used by ships and the disposal of ships waste whether it be rubbish or dirty water slops are strictly governed.

Traditionally at the end of a ship’s working life it ends up on the beaches of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh having been sold for scrap. The ship is then painstakingly broken apart by local workers on local beaches where they are run up at high tide. This is profitable work but dangerous and dirty. It has also come under scrutiny because it is considered environmentally damaging - to the beaches & the workers involved.

The shipping industry has recently attempted to regulate the recycling of ships. The Hong Kong International Convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships 2009 was adopted in May this year. It is to be known as the Hong Kong Convention. It seeks to regulate the operation of any recycling facilities, their registration and to agree an appropriate enforcement mechanism for clean ship recycling. The Convention has not yet been turned into law. The Convention remains open for ratification by member states from September 2009 to August 2010.

The UK authorities appear to have "jumped the gun” and not waited for the Hong Kong Convention to be ratified. On 7th August 2009 the liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier "Margaret Hill” was detained by the Environment Agency in the UK as she attempted to leave English waters to head abroad for scrap dismantling. The Environment Agency claimed they detained the vessel because they were concerned that it might contain hazardous materials such as asbestos. It was also on its way to be broken up in a non OECD country i.e. a country which is not a party to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. India, to where the ship had been ordered, is not in that particular club.

The 50,700 ton LNG is still in Southampton. However its ownership has no connection with this jurisdiction nor is the flagged with the British Shipping Registry. The Environment Agency relied upon the Basel Convention to detain the ship. That convention deals with the movement of hazardous wastes and their disposal internationally. Some commentators have expressed concerns that a defunct gas carrier cannot be defined as "dangerous goods or hazardous waste”.

Thousands of ships pass through the English Channel and English ports every year en route to various destinations including the scrapping beaches in India and Pakistan. Commentators have assumed that the action against the "Margaret Hill” by the UK Environment Agency was a 'one off' but there has been no official statement about any future action.

The official statement from the Environment Agency about the action against the "Margaret Hill” says "There are rules in place to ensure waste ships do not end up in developing countries and cause damage to people and the environment. The Environment Agency will only give permission for a waste ship to be exported if it is going to an authorized recycling site in a country that wants to accept it and has the necessary agreements in place”. The commercial reality is that most of the world’s dead ships are scrapped in "developing countries”.

Meanwhile the ship, which remains under detention in Southampton, can be viewed from Lester Aldridge’s Southampton office. Governments across the world are being encouraged to ratify the Hong Kong Convention as quickly as possible.

Further information about either the Basel or Hong Kong Conventions can be obtained from Linda Jacques at LA Marine.

Source: Lester Aldridge. 9 August 2009

05 August 2009

Ship Recycling: the Un-green Job?

Recycling is a good thing, right? Well, it depends. Recycling helps to reduce waste and pollution, conserves precious resources, and, by recovering scrap materials, allows secondary production of materials that requires far less energy input than producing them from scratch. For aluminum, the energy savings run as high as 95 percent; for copper 85 percent; plastics 80 percent; steel 74 percent; and paper 64 percent.

Chittagong Shipbreaking Yard.
Photo by: Tridib Ghose
But recycling jobs are often dirty, low-paid, and undesirable—a far cry from sustainable “green jobs” that are now so often talked about. Perhaps the most notorious example is ship dismantling.  It is a major employer in India and Bangladesh, employing many thousands of people, often migrant workers.

More than 80 percent of international trade flows via sea-lanes. Prior to the outbreak of the current global economic crisis, the world’s merchant fleet had expanded significantly. In 2007, the number of ships stood at 42,872 with a tonnage of 1,009.5 million dwt (dead weight tonnage).

The European Commission estimates that worldwide, between 200 and 600 large ships annually are broken up after having reached the end of their useful life. The International Maritime Organization puts the total number of ships demolished since 1990 at more than 10,000, but statistics are incomplete. The economic crisis has resulted in a glut of ships, and the New York Times reported in May 2009 that shipping companies were trying to sell more of them for scrap.

The shipbreaking industry is marked by great environmental and human health hazards, high accident rates, and poor working conditions including a lack of adequate protection for workers. The ships contain valuable steel and other scrap metal, but also many hazardous materials, including asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), toxic paints, and residual oil. Many workers are killed or injured each year, and the beaches where dismantlement takes place (this is typically not done at properly equipped shipyards) are liable to suffer contamination.

Following half a decade of negotiations under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization, an accord imposing some rules on ship recycling was adopted in May 2009. Among other provisions, the new “International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships” requires that vessels carry detailed inventories of hazardous materials, that decommissioning sites establish proper disposal procedures for hazardous materials as well as emergency plans, and that workers be equipped with protective gear.

But the shipping industry, allied with “flag of convenience” countries like Panama, Liberia, and the Bahamas, successfully opposed other important provisions. (“Flag of convenience” means that the nationality of the owner is different from the country of registration; this type of arrangement is often intended to evade taxes, wage standards, and other regulations.) Hazardous materials will not have to be removed by specially trained workers before a vessel can be dismantled, and there will be no international agency to watch over the industry’s practices. The agreement also does not require shipyards to substitute less toxic materials in shipbuilding.

Similar challenges need to be addressed in other parts of the recycling industry.  While the recovery and reuse of materials is central to a greener economy, it is important not to overlook the human element.

Source: Green Economy. Michael Renner. 5 August 2009

03 August 2009

India implements new measures to control imports of recyclables:

2 weeks ago, the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests has issued a notification with immediate effect regarding the control of imports of recyclables, despite ongoing efforts made by BIR and BIR Ambassador for the Indian sub-continent Ikbal Nathani Group of Companies.

A joint BIR-ISRI visit to the competent authorities in India was made last May in Dehli to try and avoid the implementation of inappropriate controlling measures for non-hazardous recyclables. The new regulation requires to fill in a form and to produce a pre-shipment inspection certificate issued by an inspection agency in case of import of the following Basel non-hazardous wastes - which the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests unilaterally considers to be hazardous.

  • B 1010: all ferrous and non-ferrous metals scrap
  • B 1040: electrical materials scrap not contaminated
  • B 1050: mixed non-ferrous scrap, heavy fraction scrap not contaminated
  • B 1100: metal-bearing wastes from smelting and refining
  • B 1230: mill scaling from iron & steel manufacture
  • B 3020: all paper and cardboard scrap/waste
The BIR had immediately alerted the BIR ambassador in India as well as the ISRI leadership for further action. Questions have already been raised at the E.U. Commission and with UNEP as the incompatibility of these new unilateral measures with the E.U. shipment regulation and the Basel Convention - who do not consider the above materials to be hazardous - are obvious.

Source: RecyclingPortal.EU (Sourced from Bureau of International Recycling). 3 August 2009