30 May 2016

THE SHIP BREAKERS: Working the maritime graveyard shift


There are many men there, thousands of them. The men are crawling all over the ships. The ships have been pulled out of the water using big winches that are sunk into the sand on the beach. They pull the ships up onto shore, then the men are released to swarm them. They cut them to pieces with oxygen torches and acetylene torches. The pieces they cut fall off and are very large. Sometimes, the slices come from the front of the ship, like bread slices. Other times, the slices come from the sides, like turkey slices. Either way, they must be picked apart.

The fat man, the owner of lot 161, told us that five men die in Alang each year. Will sensed that he was lying, and I did, too. Will told me that one reason the number of deaths is higher than five is because there are no masks or filters in the shipbreaking yard. Whatever comes out of the ship, if it is not scrap metal or something usable (like a lifejacket), is set on fire.

Sometimes an oil tanker arrives. In these cases, the tanker is cut open on shore and the oil spills out. That is why the Alang coast is brown. I thought that anyway, but Will told me that the coast is always brown in India, not just in Alang. I walked down to the mud and smelled it. It smelled like shit. Will told me that is because the workers do not have any plumbing in their homes. The homes for the workers at Alang are made of plastic sheets and scraps of wood and tarps and so on. When they need to use the bathroom, they wander out into the ocean.

Will is a factory worker from Tulsa, Oklahoma. For this reason, he was more adjusted to the environment of the Alang ship-breaking yard. The smoke, combined with the chemicals, the exhaust of the machines, and the stinking ocean made it so I hated my own breathing. Will said that was normal.

I saw a worker there and I told Will that he couldn’t be older than 15. Will said that was bad. But then he told me that he started work in a foundry when he was 17. It wasn’t good, he said, but he really couldn’t judge.

I asked Will if he thought human rights abuses were happening in the shipyard in Alang. I told him that I had read in many newspapers that these ship-breaking yards were the scene of human rights abuses. In fact, I believed that I had seen some with my own eyes. Will said he didn’t really think so. He said the pay was better here than in many parts of India. Besides, he said, the conditions were not that much worse here than in the average factory. The reason the shipyards were big news was because Westerners felt guilty that their ships were being broken up here.

We sat with the owner of lot 161. His face was round and so pudgy that his eyes were really squinty and gangster-looking. I do not know if he was actually evil, though. The fat man was wearing a gold watch and had tea delivered to us. I did not take any. I told the fat man’s assistant that I was sick to my stomach. The assistant became afraid of angering the fat man, who rarely hosted foreign dignitaries such as ourselves. Foreigners tended to leave and say nasty things about the operation there. Foreigners were obsessed with Alang, the fat man said, because they did not understand it.

Nowadays, the value of a big ship is only determined by its weight. The human labor and knowledge and design and so on are negligible to the price. That is how cheap human labor has become. This is something the fat man explained to me. Nowadays, things like ships are measured by the kilo.

The ships are bought as-is. The beds, the maps, the lockers, the exercise equipment, ropes, lifeboats, blenders, spoons, and so on are all still there. Outside Alang, there are open lots or rudimentary warehouses holding all of these things for sale. I saw a whole warehouse full of treadmills. Another was just couches. It was really amazing. All of these things were along one long road leading to the ships themselves and the brown beach. I measured the distance from one end of this road to the other, and the distance was six kilometers. On both sides of that road were continuous piles of ship stuff that reach higher than a house. I probably saw over one thousand blenders.

The ships’ ballasts, giant redwood trunks made of forged steel, are taken away to be turned on lathes for weeks, making them into molds for the pipes that run beneath our cities. Then the molds are brought to factories and filled with liquid steel. Then more cities are built. And ships are made to supply them with all the things they need.

Will is an engineer and he is pretty good at math and at figuring things out. I asked him after I returned from India: If you stacked up all humans on a scale, and then all machines, which one would be heavier?

“There are about 6 billion humans at about 60 kilos average,” Will wrote to me. “That’s 0.36 gigatons.”

He wrote: “The total number of cars produced last year was 80 million. And the total number in existence is now more than a billion. The average car weighs more than 1.5t. This means that cars alone outweigh humans by four times: 1.5 gigatons of cars vs 0.36 gt of humans.”

I used to have this nightmare where I found myself standing inside of a giant mouth. The mouth was as big as the universe and was lined with sharp teeth pointing downwards. I am holding onto a tooth and all around me, human bodies are falling down into the mouth. Millions of them, people from all over the world. I told Will that was kind of the feeling I got when I was in Alang—that we were all falling down into some kind of abyss, and that it was completely out of our control to stop it. That it wasn’t progress that was moving us, but gravity. I told him I needed a bit of time off from looking at machines.

Will and the German intern said that it was not a humanitarian problem or an environmental problem. They said that like all problems, it was an engineering problem. The solution to all of these machines, they kept insisting, was more machines.

I told them that I thought they were maniacs.

“Listen,” Will said. “I’ll draw it out.”

He proceeded to redesign Alang with locks for raising the ships and for holding in spilled oil. There were big cranes to hold up the ships and the ship pieces so they wouldn’t fall and crush the workers. He put robotic torches on robotic cars on these same cranes to do the heavy cutting. He said that humans would only have to push the buttons. It could be a good operation, he said. Clean and efficient and humane. It would even be cheaper. More profitable.

I looked at his drawing and I had to admit that it seemed like a very good idea. Much better than now.

“So why don’t they do it?” I asked.

“Folks are just too busy whipping their workers to think about the numbers,” Will said. “Quite common.”

Source: In These 24 March 2016

Asian Shipowners' Association raises concerns over potential EU port levy

The Asian Shipowners' Association has called for the ratification of the Hong Kong Convention, and is in talks with the International Chamber of Shipping and the European Community Shipowners' Associations, or ECSA, on the EU's proposal to potentially introduce a levy on all ships entering EU ports to incentivize shipowners to recycle their ships in an environmentally friendly way.

"Our view is that we need only one international policy, and the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships is backed by the International Maritime Organization," secretary general of National Association of Chinese Shipowners Bob Hsu told S&P Global Platts Monday.

It was one of the issues raised during ASA's annual general meeting held in Shanghai, China on May 20.

ASA called on its members -- which include NACS -- to encourage their own governments to ratify the Hong Kong Convention "at the earliest opportunity."

The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, or HKC, was adopted by IMO at a conference in Hong Kong in May 2009, but only a handful of the 15 ship-owning and ship scrapping nations representing 40% of the world's gross tonnage have ratified it.

HKC is aimed at ensuring that ships, when being recycled after reaching the end of their operational lives, do not pose any unnecessary risk to human health and safety or to the environment.

The EU Ship Recycling Regulation, however, incorporates the provisions of HKC and establishes an EU-approved list of recycling facilities where EU-flagged vessels will have to be scrapped.

Ship recycling yards worldwide can apply to be included on this list.

However, the guidelines in practice make it extremely challenging for these yards to be recognized under EU Regulation, said ASA and ECSA.

For one, these yards need to ensure safe working conditions, pollution control including proper downstream waste management and the enforcement of international labor rights, said environmental groups.

"Workers still do not have access to free drinking water and toilets, and there is no hospital, nor ambulance available for the estimated 20,000 workers," said Indian nongovernmental organization Paryavaran Mitra, in describing the working conditions of ship recycling workers in Alang town, India.

"Alang yards use the beaching method where pollution control is made impossible by the tide and safe working conditions cannot be ensure," it added.

India, Bangladesh, China and Pakistan are global centers of ship breaking and recycling, with Alang being the largest in the world.

Brussels-based NGO Shipbreaking Platform points out that shipowners' associations have found a convenient solution in advocating the HKC as it does not ban the beaching method -- where ships are first grounded and then dismantled, posing hazards to workers and the environment -- and it does not introduce strict rules on downstream waste management.

"Anyone can hand out Statements of Compliance [or SOCs] to ship breaking yards claiming they operate in line with the convention. While some certifiers act with more diligence, others have started to offer cheaper and quicker certifications," NGO Shipbreaking Platform's executive director Patrizia Heidegger said.

Lax certification could render the standard meaningless as in the case with ISO 30000:2009, for which most yards in India and Bangladesh were quick to produce certificates, Heidegger added.

ECSA, for its part, visited eight ship recycling yards in Alang last month and found that while the implementation of standards differed considerably among the yards, these yards have "taken the responsible path towards full compliance with the Hong Kong Convention, both in letter and spirit," said ECSA's secretary general Patrick Verhoeven.

"We want to ensure that the other yards are following these first movers so that the bar can be raised overall," said Verhoeven, adding that adopting an overly restrictive approach will discourage first movers and further delay the implementation of the IMO Hong Kong Convention.

Verhoeven called on these first movers to apply for recognition under the EU Ship Recycling Regulation, and also urged the European Commission to "assess these applications in the true spirit of the Regulation and the Convention."

Representatives from EU member states, the European Commission (DG Environment) as well as the International Chamber of Shipping were part of the delegation that visited the Alang yards in late April.

Source: platts.com. 30 May 2016

Successful negotiations: Gadani ship-breaking workers call off strike

KARACHI: Workers at the Gadani ship-breaking yard called off their two-day strike on Tuesday after their demand of restoring sacked colleagues was accepted by the employers.

Around 360 workers, including 260 daily wagers and 100 watchmen, were fired on May 16 by the yard owners, apparently as part of a cost-cutting plan. “We opposed the move as it was taking the labourers’ right to livelihood,” Ship-Breaking Mazdoor Union president Bashir Mehmoodani told The Express Tribune.

At first the labourers tried to negotiate with the employers but when it did not work they resorted to a strike, Mehmoodani said. He added that on the first day, the road leading to the yard was blocked and on the second day work was completely halted. It was after this that the Pakistan Ship Breakers Association offered to mediate, Mehmoodani explained. “The union called on the head of the association, Dewan Rizwan Farooq, at his office,” he said.

In the meeting, it was decided that the sacked labourers will be immediately restored, he said. A four-member committee of the ship breakers was also formed to ensure implementation of the agreement.

Sacked labourer Amir Buksh said he and his colleagues were fired in retaliation over the FIRs registered against their employers in case of injury or death at workplace due to lack of safety. He said, they were told that the employers would not hire any locals from now on due to the workers’ movement against violation of labour rights.

Source: the express tribune. 24 May 2016

Gadani ship breakers: Workers threaten to strike if demands not met

KARACHI: Workers at the ship breaking yard in Gadani have threatened to go on strike if they are denied their ‘due rights to health, safety and social security’.

Addressing a press conference at Karachi Press Club on Wednesday, Bashir Mehmoodani, president of the Ship Breaking Mazdoor Union, said labourers of the ship dismantling industry are being exploited by their employers as well as the government.

Mehmoodani, who has been working at the yard for over a decade, claimed there was only one ambulance for more than 15,000 workers but even that was hardly used in cases of emergencies as the contractors have employed it as a means of transportation for their families.

“The ambulance is being used as a pick-and-drop van for the contractors’ children from school and home. It is also used to bring their groceries,” the workers union president alleged, adding that in case of an emergency they had to call the Edhi rescue service.

In the last two months, two workers lost their lives while a dozen sustained injuries, including a young labourer who lost his leg, he said, adding that, “We are not given any safety gear which is mandatory in the dangerous line of work we are associated with.”

Seconding the worker’s claim, Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation said that Gadani has the second largest ship breaking yard in the world after Alang in India.

“On the 15-kilometre belt, there are more than 132 yards owned by different people. Since its establishment in 1968, it has generated revenue in billions of rupees to the government and the owners but they, in return, have done very little for the benefit of labourers who put their life at risk every day,” said the labour leader.

Mansoor claimed that 99% of workers are deprived of their right to be registered with social security institutions and the government departments responsible to keep a check on this had ‘criminally’ turned a blind eye towards it.

Other speakers at the press conference urged the government to sign the existing international conventions pertaining to ship recycling and implement them at Gadani.

Source: the express tribune. 18 May 2016

21 May 2016

Horizon Fairbanks ship leaves Bellingham for good:

  • Former container ship left in pre-dawn hours Monday
  • Matson, owner of Horizon Lines, sold ship to All Star Metals recycling company
  • Ship had been on waterfront since 2007

The Horizon Fairbanks, which became a central figure on Bellingham’s waterfront as it sat idle for the better part of a decade, left town for good in the pre-dawn hours Monday.

The ship was towed out of Bellingham just before 4 a.m. April 25, marking the end of its stay at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal, which started in 2007.

The Port of Bellingham had anticipated its departure some time this month — word had it the vessel might leave over the weekend — as Horizon Lines owner Matson had given the port a 30-day notice on April 11 canceling its agreement to lease the space.

The notice gave the company through about May 10 to move the vessel, said Mike Hogan, port spokesman. Matson paid about $1,000 a day under the agreement.

Matson sold the Fairbanks to All Star Metals, a ship recycling company based in Brownsville, Texas, to be scrapped, said Dave Warter, marine terminals manager for the Port of Bellingham.

“(Matson) had already started to take out some of the parts for their other vessels because they knew this one wouldn’t be put back into service,” Warter said.

Matson hadn’t officially told the port one way or the other if the ship would be scrapped, but with the sale to All Star Metals, a subsidiary of Scrap Metal Services, the ship is due to be recycled in the south.

When active, the C6 Class container ship, built in Mississippi in 1973, hauled containers to Alaska. Before 2007, it stayed in Bellingham on a seasonal basis.

The ship is listed at roughly 21,000 tons. Because of its low fuel economy, Horizon Lines had kept it idle.

In December 2014, the ship captured community attention when 67-mph gusts snapped bowlines and a cleat from the terminal, allowing the 669-foot ship to swing around from its usual mooring place.

The bow caught on sediment in a shallow part of the Whatcom Waterway channel, preventing it from swinging farther, and two tugboats moved the steel ship back in place within a few hours.

As for the newly vacated space at the shipping terminal, the port is “always talking to folks about additional dock space or cargo, but there is nothing set up at this point,” Warter said.

Source: Bellingham herald. 25 April 2016

Grounded tug ‘MT Lotus’ moved from Arossim beach

Grounded tug ‘MT Lotus’  moved from Arossim beach

Arihant Ship Breakers finally succeeded in moving the grounded tug ‘MT Lotus’ from Arossim beach on Monday.

The salvage operation in order to tow the grounded pontoon ‘Bhageerath’ is likely to start by the next couple of days with the help of MT Lotus and another tug which has been summoned by Arihant Ship Breakers from Mumbai.

Arihant Ship Breakers have utilised the services of two JCB machines and an excavator for the purpose of excavating the sand surrounded by the grounded tug.

It may be recalled that ‘MT Lotus’ tug was grounded at Arossim beach on April 24 after it was making an attempt to tow away the grounded pontoon ‘Bhageerath’.

Arossim villagers and the traditional fishermen have protested against the grounded tug and the pontoon, demanding immediate arrest of the Cansaulim-Arossim-Cuelim Village Panchayat secretary, sarpanch and the hotel management who were responsible for organising a wedding ceremony onboard the floating pontoon. The operation on removing the grounded tug came following a meeting chaired by the South Goa collector Dr Sachin Shinde who is also the chairman of South Goa Disaster Management Authority. Dr Shinde inspected the site last Saturday and was personally monitoring the situation. When contacted the Mormugao Port Trust chairman I Jeyakumar said that Arihant Ship Breakers have started working on removing the sand around the grounded pontoon.

“Once all the sand and water is removed, the workers engaged in salvaging the pontoon would seal the cracks developed on the wind tanks. The pontoon will be removed with the help of two tugs” stated Jeyakumar. He however opined that the operation on towing away the pontoon would commence in another couple of days.

Source: navhind times. 3 May 2016

Europe's ship breakers on promotional tour of Alang, but human rights, environmental activists denied access

Europe's environmental and human rights activists have taken strong exception to the continent's shipowners visiting Alang on a promotional tour, but regretted, representatives of non-government organizations (NGOs) were "denied access" despite a promise earlier.

Patrizia Heidegger, Executive Director, NGO Shipbreaking Platform, Brussels, has said in a statement that the European ship owners, government representatives of France, Germany and Belgium, and the European Commission were to visit the Alang shipbreaking yards.

Yet, Heidegger added, "Despite several indications that NGOs, including the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, would be part of the delegation, no NGO was invited to join in the end."

“We were clearly not welcome to join this visit. Critical civil society voices are not wanted in Alang – neither by ship owners, nor by the yards – this confirms the lack of transparency under which the yards in Alang operate,” said Heidegger.

The delegation visiting Alang had, in its itenirary, showed that it would have no meeting with trade union representatives or workers, and would only visit a selection of very few yards.

The visit is organised by industry association ECSA (European Community Shipowners’ Association) that represents the interests of European ship owners.
:It is an attempt by both ship owners and certain yards in India to convince European policy makers that yards in Alang should be approved for the upcoming EU list of accepted ship recycling facilities", Heidegger said.

"However", the NGO top representative added, "Under the European Ship Recycling Regulation and the recently published technical guidelines on the requirements for ship recycling facilities, it is clear that beaching facilities do not qualify for the European Union list."

Heidegger claimed, "Local environmental groups have raised several concerns related to the deplorable working conditions, poor downstream waste management and continued pollution of the coastal waters in Alang."
“We share the Gujarat-based NGOs’ concerns and demand that European ship owners do not settle for double standards", Heidegger said, adding, "European ship owners should only use facilities that operate at a level which is accepted in the European Union. The low-cost method of beaching will not feature on the European Union list.”

The visit was organized around the time when ship recycling activities at Alang, situated in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district, have picked pace in the last three months.

Between January and March, say reports, a total of 120 old ships beached there — nearly 80 per cent more than the number of ships that visited the yard during the same period in 2015.

“In the last three months of the previous financial year, we have seen a lot of activities. The number of ships that visited Alang during this period is almost the total number of vessels beached here during the first three quarters of 2015-16,” captain Sudhir Chadha, port officer at Alang, has been quoted at saying.

Only 129 ships beached at Alang for recycling between April 2015 and December 2015, when the business witnessed one of the worst slumps. From January to March 2015, only 67 vessels had come to the yard.

However, another calculation said that business at Alang had still not become normal, with just only 249 ships reaching the yard during 2015-16 — an eight-year low. Such lows were seen only during the 2006-07 slowdown, when 136 ships visited Alang.

Meanwhile, the shipbreakers at Alang blamed the “poor performance” on the Baltic Dry Index — which measures the rates paid to hire ships of different sizes to transport dry bulk commodities.The Baltic Dry Index hit an all-time low in February this year.

The freight market was down, and so it was becoming unviable for ship owners to hold onto their old ships or operate them. Such ships were easily available in the international markets at affordable rates to shipbreakers.
However, at Alang, the ship breakers complained, they were still struggling. The steel prices continued to remain low, and the infrastructure and real-estate sector continue to underperform.

The worst months of 2015-16 were October and August when only four and nine ships, respectively, came to be broken. The best month has been February 2016, when 50 ships arrived.

Source: counter view. 2 May 2016

239 End-of-life Ships Sold for Breaking in 1Q

According to the NGO Shipbreaking Platform 239 end-of-life ships were sold for breaking in the first quarter of 2016. Seventy-nine per cent of end-of-life ships ended up on South Asian beaches, making this quarter one of the worst ones in the last years for non-beaching yards around the world.

Out of 189 vessels that reached the shores of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, 127 were bulk carriers. As opposed to 2015 trends, India has again become the favorite final destination.

68 ships sold to South Asia in the first quarter of 2016 were owned by EU owners. Greek owners topped the list with 40 ships sold to South Asian breakers. German owners followed with 16 ships. Also Chinese, South Korean and Monaco owners rank high on the list – all selling several vessels to Bangladesh where conditions are known to be the worst when comparing all three South Asian shipbreaking countries.

Monaco Zodiac Group, and Germans Konig & Cie GmbH & Company KG and Rickmers Reederei GmbH & Cie KG top the list of worst dumpers this quarter. These companies have previously been criticised by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform for their substandard end-of-life management.

Whilst grey- and black listed flags, such as Comoros and St Kitts and Nevis, continue to be particularly popular for endof-life ships, also ships registered under the flags of Cyprus and Malta ended up on the South Asian beaches. A new EU Regulation on ship recycling will prohibit the dismantling of EU-flagged ships in substandard yards.

However, by simply flagging out to a non-EU flag before selling the ship for scrap, ship owners can easily circumvent the EU laws. 35 ships, including two Greek flagged ships, one Belgian flagged ship and one Malta flagged ship, changed their flag just weeks before hitting the beach.

Source: marine link. 28 April 2016