SHIPBREAKING industry plays an important role in the economy of Bangladesh by supporting steel industry, shipbuilding industry and other heavy and light engineering industries, and also by generating employment. But problems regarding safety, health and environmental issues create a negative image for the industry.
Previously, shipbreaking was done in industrial nations, but because of the hazardous nature of the industry it shifted to south Asian countries where safety and environmental regulations are more relaxed. About 90% of shipbreaking in the world is done in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China.
International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been trying to implement guidelines/regulations/conventions for qualitative improvement of shipbreaking industry around the globe since 2003. The ‘Hong Kong International Convention for Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships’ is one of them. The Hong Kong Convention (HKC) was adopted in May 2009 and started ratification from September 2009. It will come into force upon fulfillment of some requirements. It is applicable to all merchant ships greater than 500 gross tonnage (GT) as well as to all ship recycling facilities. The European Commission (EC) is also going to enforce the ‘European Regulation on Ship Recycling’ by the end of 2013. One of the key issues of both regulations, which directly affect the ship recycling industry, is the authorisation of ship recycling facilities. Many ship recycling yards which are not up to the mark may be eliminated because of restricted authorisation of ship recycling facilities.
When HKC comes into play, it is expected that a sea-change will occur in the shipbreaking industry. Even though Bangladeshi ship breakers are generally the highest payers among shipbreaking nations, they will face difficulty in bringing ships from outside without having necessary approval of their ship recycling yards. For example, for breaking a European owned vessel, it is the obligation of the owner/buyer to ensure that the vessel which is going to a particular ship breaking facility has got the necessary infrastructure and approval/authorisation from reputed organisations like classification societies so that environmental issues, safety and health of the workers are maintained by that ship recycling facility.
After framing of the Ship Breaking and Ship Recycling Rules 2011, there have been some positive changes in ship breaking industry in Bangladesh. The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) is working in Bangladesh for capacity building in shipbreaking industry. We should keep an eye on the activities of our main competitors like India and China because, to stay in this business, we need to achieve at least minimum standards in terms of health, safety and environment. We also need to take initiatives to cope with upcoming regulations for ship recycling industries.
The Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering of Buet is doing research work on shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh over the last couple of years. A few seminars/symposiums have been arranged in line with the research work to share the knowledge with all stake holders, including policymakers from the government. Recently, ClassNK had arranged expertise training workshop on Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM) for shipbreaking industry at Alang, Gujrat, India. Two faculty members from the department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (including myself) participated in this extensive workshop, which was sponsored by the sub-project ‘Modernization of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Program at Buet’ through UGC’s Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP, CP#2083). Two IHM experts from Germany and Japan demonstrated all the aspects related to shipbreaking and recycling industries. ClassNK also arranged field visit to Alang shipbreaking yards (which is one of the biggest shipbreaking yards in the world) for practical demonstration and to show their activities in some yards.
What we found was that Indian shipbreakers were conscious about upcoming HKC regulations, and were prepared to do anything for their business so that it was not affected negatively by the upcoming regulations. In the meantime, ClassNK is working closely with at least half a dozen shipbreaking yards at Alang for the approval of ship breaking facilities. Experts from Japan regularly visit these yards to see their activities. They analyse the GAP for the specific yard and recommend additional requirements to comply with HKC. Once the shipyard meets the necessary requirements, it will be certified as HKC compliant ship breaking yard.
To comply with HKC, Indian shipbreakers have already got centrally operated Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facilities (TSDF), which are used by all 160-170 shipbreaking yards located at Alang. Due to their favourable geographical location, every yard is able to beach the ship very near to its plot. As a result, it is very easy for them to use heavy machinery/crane facilities for breaking ships. At the same time, bilge-ballast water management and fuel oil management can be easily maintained. These yards are working with academic institutions like IIT, and continuously presenting their research works in seminars/conferences not only in India but also outside. As a result, the international community is fully aware about their good initiatives and may consider India as a good option for their ship breaking when HKC enters into force.
We should keep in mind that shipbreaking is something which is definitely going to be affected by the upcoming regulations. To hold our position in world shipbreaking, there is no other alternatives but to comply with HKC. On the other hand, it is not possible to comply with HKC overnight. We must upgrade the infrastructure for upstream and downstream waste management, and health and safety issues of the workers before trying to get facility approval of the yard. If we do not start the process right now, we might lose the business of shipbreaking in near future. We should also strengthen industry-academia collaboration for research work. The government can utilise the expertise of the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering to improve overall standard and image of shipbreaking industry so that it can be sustainable in the long run.
The writer is Professor, Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technolgoy (BUET).
Source: the daily star. 28 October 2013