07 November 2013

The wrecks of shipbreaking

One would have thought that ship breaking is a box standard transaction; bring in an old sea haul, break it apart piece by piece and sell it to the scrap kings. But not quite so!

The recently released report by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and NGO Shipbreaking Platform throws light on some of serious environmental and humanitarian wrecks cause by shipbreaking in Pakistan.

The report titled The Way Forward for a Green Ship Recycling industry--Environmental, Health and Safety Conditions says the Pakistans shipbreaking industry is marked by frequent preventable accidents causing major injuries to workers and sometimes even deaths.

The report adds that hazardous wastes recovered from the ships are not handled in accordance with best international practises, which leads to pollution, environmental degradation and puts workers and waste handlers at the risks occupational diseases.

The shipbreaking industry pays about Rs5 billion in annual taxes and according to 2012 estimates employed about 12,000-15,000 workers. The SDPI estimates that up to 850,000 people--including workers and family members--depend directly or indirectly on the industry.

These numbers may not exactly make it a big time industry. But consider this: steel from shipbreaking makes about 15 percent of total steel production in Pakistan and about 10 percent of total steel consumption of the country. This, considering the fact current status of Pakistans shipbreaking industry is nowhere close to its heydays of the 1980s.

Surely for an estimated total investment of about Rs5-6 billion (see table for breakup), the government can take out some monies from the annual taxes it collects from the shipbreaking industry and implement the necessary measures over due course.

Time frame     Measures                                                 Investment cost($ in mn)
1-2 years      Worker registration & personal protective equipment               2 to 3Onsite pollution & safety control equipmentEnvironmental health & safety proceduresand ship recycling action plan
3-5 years      On site equipment                                               10 to 15Training/capacityHealth care system
6-10 years     Hazardous waste disposal thermal treatment facility                   25
Source: World Bank, 2010 - HKC stands for Hong Kong
Convention that established international best practices for ship breaking.
Source: business recorder.

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