The severe shipping crisis of the mid-1980s triggered a wave of ship scrapping and a few countries, such as
, developed shipbreaking into a major business. India
The tools of the trade were minimal as ships were simply beached and torched into smaller pieces carried or winched on land, with little regard for human safety and the environment. The well-publicised dramatic pictures of men and women standing besides heaps of burning asbestos are still fresh in my memory.
In order to do something about these horrendous circumstances, I decided to organise the 1st Global Ship Recycling Summit in 1999, with Mare Forum in
, where we invited representatives from the Alang ship demolition community and the Gujarat Maritime Board to discuss the challenges of improving the low operating standards. Amsterdam
This first successful dialogue was continued in early 2000 in
Bhavnagar , Gujarat, at a conference organised by the GMB which I attended as well as two representatives from the International Chamber of Shipping.
The local Greenpeace organisation wanted to present an analysis of the polluted soil samples taken from the sea in front of Alang, but the GMB refused it as it was afraid of the negative publicity that this might cause. However, under pressure from the three foreign participants Greenpeace was allowed after all to present the results.
During my stay I visited the shipbreaking plots at Alang and was also taken, on my request, to a small factory where the 1 m by 1 m shell plates from the ship’s hulls were cut into strips, heated and re-rolled into re-bars which were sold to the construction industry.
This is an energy-efficient way of making re-bars as no iron ore smelting is required, only heating. Besides, it created many local jobs which could not be created otherwise in
I was convinced that the negative aspects of ship dismantling at the beaches of Alang could be solved with little investment if organised collectively by the GMB, which oversaw the operations, as the activity added real value to the region and the country.
So we organised, as a follow-up, the 2nd Global Ship Recycling Summit in 2000 in
Rotterdam, and its success led to a second conference in Gujarat in early 2001 in Ahmedabad. A week before I was supposed to travel to the conference, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale destroyed most of this mega city and thousands of people died. Conference cancelled.
The global discussion on ship recycling evolved rapidly and the Americans organised in early September 2001 a conference in
, where we visited a shipyard which dismantled a small ship at the cost of many millions of dollars. A bigger contrast with the work practices in Alang was not possible. Philadelphia
I left the
Philadelphia conference a bit early and flew via New York to on the evening of the September 10. Amsterdam
The flight was delayed due to a heavy thunderstorm above
New York, so I flew in the early morning of September 11, 2001, from New York, just hours before the attack on the twin towers of the . World Trade Center
An earthquake and a terrorist attack were bad omens for my involvement in the ship recycling discussion, but luckily the Marine Environment Protection Committee at the International Maritime Organization took matters in hand and this resulted, finally, in various conventions that set the standards and protocols for ship dismantling in the future.
In the meantime, some shipowners put their money where their mouth was, like Nedlloyd . It ordered a detailed survey of all the hazardous material on board one of its containerships that had to be scrapped. Nedlloyd accepted a lower price per light displacement tonne from a Chinese demolition yard which had all the procedures and processes in place to scrap the ship in a responsible way.
Nedlloyd’s example was not widely followed, as most shipowners preferred a high price per ldt, rather than becoming a responsible industry leader.
Then the environmental lobby got into the act, which resulted in the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and consequently ships became classified as toxic waste. A lot of energy had to be spent on curbing that decision, which was finally reversed recently.
During shipping’s boom years of the past decade, the number of ships offered for demolition dropped to very low levels, but the demolition market turned due to the global economic crisis and the phasing out of the single-hull oil tankers.
The countries competing for tonnage in the east are still
India, Bangladesh , Pakistan and . Technological progress in the dismantling process in the first three countries has been limited, although some advances have been made. China
Lloyd’s List reported on a recent industry event in which demolition yards and cash buyers expressed their intentions to improve working practices in order to influence the public perception of the industry which was so tarnished by the practices of the past.
However, I believe that the announcement of Dalian Shipbuilding Industry that it is to set up the world’s largest green ship recycling factory may have stimulated the participants to improve their act as the new and efficient facility may in the future take away a lot of their traditional business — in particular when the new yard becomes a success and more Chinese yards will adopt the “cradle to grave” market strategy.
As newbuilding orders will not be enough to sustain all the hundreds of Chinese yards, we may witness a stampede into green recycling territory.
Then the problem of substandard practices in
India, Bangladesh and will be solved by the market force of the Chinese yards and we may conclude that ship recycling is finally coming of age. Pakistan
Source: Safety4Sea (Sourced from Lloyd's List). By Niko Wijnolst, 20 July 2011