19 November 2013

Ship scrapping turns eco-friendly:

KESENNUMA, Miyagi—A move to dismantle decommissioned big ships in an environmentally friendly way and recycle them has spread throughout the country.

More than 90 percent of ships in the world are scrapped in developing countries, and environmental pollution caused by the demolition work is a problem. Observers say demolition responsibility belongs to the shipbuilding countries.

In Kesennuma—where the 330-ton, 60-meter-long Kyotoku Maru No. 18 was washed ashore by tsunami following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake—heavy machines roared as they carried steel plates cut from the fishing vessel. Although plans to preserve the ship as a reminder of the disaster were once discussed, work to dismantle the ship was completed on Oct. 28.

Demolition work was contracted to Ship Recycle Muroran, a nonprofit organization based in Muroran, Hokkaido. Steel parts taken from Kyotoku Maru No. 18 will become automobile parts, manholes and other useful items. The ship’s screw was also sold. Most of the ship’s parts have been recycled.

Demolition work was conducted in a way that prevents toxic substances, such as asbestos, from spreading to the environment, and unclean water created during the work was purified before being released into the ocean.

Ship Recycle Muroran is also working on improving water jet technology to cut steel plates. The technology can prevent heavy fuel oil and chemical substances in ships from catching fire because pressurized water is used in dismantling ships.

94% of demolition done abroad

“As no specialized shipbreaking yard existed, dozens of large ships were spread over several kilometers on a beach. It was an extremely unusual sight,” recalled Prof. Kazumichi Shimizu at Muroran Institute of Technology.

Shimizu, who is director of the nonprofit organization, was referring to a site in Chittagong, Bangladesh, which he visited on an inspection tour in 2009.

According to Shimizu, the beach was jet black and muddy with heavy oil that had leaked from the ships. It was virtually impossible not to hold one's nose as the air reeked of the smell of sludge.

The operating life of a ship is usually believed to be 30 years. In ships of that age, harmful asbestos was widely used as an insulating material for engines. However, barefoot workers wore no masks and even boys of middle school age worked among them, he said.

In cutting steel plates with oxyacetylene torches, sparks fell onto the beach, setting oil on fire. No one was surprised even when they heard the sounds of huge explosions, Shimizu said.

A local researcher has issued a report saying about a dozen people lose their lives annually at these sites.

As of 2012, 94 percent of the world’s ship demolition was carried out by four countries—India, Bangladesh, China and Pakistan—because of low labor costs and strong demand for iron in these nations.

Although Japan is a leading shipbuilding and maritime country, which builds 18 percent of the world’s ships and owned 14 percent of ships in terms of tonnage as of the end of 2012, ship demolition has decreased in this country after peaking in 1985.

Except for vessels belonging to the Self-Defense Forces and Japan Coast Guard, hardly any ship is scrapped here.

Shimizu, who is determined to convey to the next generation Japan’s shipscrapping techniques, said, “We Japanese, who build ships and receive a great deal of benefit from them, must improve the situation.”

He started to move the NPO’s activities into full gear with the scrapping of a 12,250-ton automobile carrier in 2010.

The move is spreading into other areas in Japan. In April, The Ehime Toyo Shippu Risaikuru Kenkyukai, a ship recycling study group based in Niihama, Ehime Prefecture, completed scrapping the Yotei Maru, a 8,310-ton former ferryboat that plied the Tsugaru Strait between Aomori and Hakodate, Hokkaido, in cooperation with a ship demolition firm in Kagawa Prefecture. The aim of the project was to improve ship-scrapping techniques. Study groups were launched in other areas, including Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture.

The main problem is the cost for dismantling ships. In scrapping Kesennuma’s Kyotoku Maru No. 18, only 10 people were engaged in the demolition work and the time they were allowed was shortened to six weeks. Even so, they only managed to cover about ¥50 million out of the total cost for scrapping the ship through insurance taken out by the ship’s owner and the sale of iron and other materials from the ship. The government provided a subsidy of ¥300 million to scrap the automobile carrier, but the company only broke even, Shimizu said.

Keio University Prof. Eiji Hosoda, an expert on environmental economics and recycling beyond borders, said: “Japan and other countries have the responsibility to handle recyclable waste and to dispose of waste. We can praise the move to dismantle more ships in Japan, but it’s necessary to develop techniques that can be transferred to developing countries not having proper equipment to prevent pollution.”

Source: japan news. 17 November 2013

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