15 July 2015

Brownsville ship recycling industry reels in jobs, moves steel

Navy Carrier-Final Trip

BROWNSVILLE — The death of decommissioned U.S. Navy ships has helped fuel the local economy, with tens of thousands of tons of metal harvested from each vessel.

The latest is the USS Ranger, set to dock at the Port of Brownsville this afternoon. The storied aircraft carrier is expected to draw crowds to watch the final stretch of her voyage toward being scrapped — an  expanding business for the port.

 “All ports have their niches and one that’s been developed here is the ship recycling industry,” said Eduardo Campirano, director at the Port of Brownsville. “Once they were called ship breakers, but now they are ship recyclers and the industry has evolved.”

When at full capacity, five companies at the Port of Brownsville employ upward of 1,000 workers who slice away ship hulls and haul scrap for resale. Those jobs typically pay $10 to $15 per hour for the semi-skilled positions that often require vocational training.

“My understanding is that the quality of the steel that is coming off those vessels even though they may be 50 or 60 years old is very good,” he said. “You can imagine what a large bronze (ship) propeller could go for.”

Last year, about 37,000 loaded railcars went into Mexico carrying scrap for resale, said Nikhil Shah, president of All Star Metals, a local ship recycler.

Companies will also recycle private barges, old oil platforms, railcars and automobiles, he said. Bronze and copper also bring much higher prices in the scrap metal market.

“It’s an important niche that fills a national interest in a safe and responsible way,” Shah said. “I think that the environmental and safety regulations have become more stringent and made our industry stronger.”

International Shipbreaking LTD is slated to receive the USS Ranger today.

United Kingdom-based recycling firm European Metals Recycling in 2010 acquired the company, which now operates as a subsidiary.

Robert Berry, founder of International Shipbreaking, still oversees shipbreaking, with as many as 200 workers who cut away at the steel ship while it’s still in the water.

“It depends on the ship, but you basically cut it in pieces that your cranes can lift and you dismantle it in separate parts collecting like metals together like copper, brass and steel,” Berry said. “When you’re down to a certain level, you pull it up out of the water.”

Nearly 70 percent of the steel scrapped from ships at the Port of Brownsville ends up in U.S. steel mills and is repurposed. Most becomes construction materials, like rebar used in concrete construction.

 “The U.S. Navy builds ships every year so as long as they keep building they’ll keep retiring the old ones,” he said. “When these ships come in it can mean many millions of dollars for the local economy, just the payroll is a lot.”

Source: The Monitor. 11 July 2015

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