Friday, May 01, 2015

Gujarat's Alang shipbreakers "earn" more than elsewhere in the world at the cost of hazardous work conditions

A ship being manually pulled to the shore at Alang
By Our Representative
In one of the sharpest indictments of the Alang Shipbreaking Yard, situated on the south Saurashtra coast of Gujarat, Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, in an online exposure titled "Asia's ship graveyards", has said that "ship owners earn more money from selling their vessels to scrapyards" at Alang than anywhere else in the world, and they do it at the cost of making workers work in extremely hazardous conditions.
"While a ton of steel will fetch around $150 in Europe, in China it's worth $300 and in India $500", DW says, even as pointing towards how this is done by exploiting workers.
Hazardous handiwork at the shipyard
Calling it the "largest ship recycling facility in the world", where workers are made to "dismantle container ships and passenger tankers along a 10-kilometer stretch of beach", DW says, "Some 35,000 people work at the shipyard in Alang, India, most of whom are migrants or unskilled day labourers."
It adds, "At low tide, the old ships are driven as close to shore as possible before being dragged onto land by men with ropes."
Providing details, alongside several photographs to visually explain what it says, according to DW, the workers are involved in hazardous handiwork on a degrated beach. "Unlike in Europe and the United States, where machines do most of the dirty work, Asian shipyards often lack power tools. Workers there generally use little more than blow torches and hammers to scrap a ship." That is the reason why "accidents are not uncommon" at Alang, it adds.
The ship's final resting place
Pointing towards "inadequate protective measures", DW says, "No safety goggles, no steel-toed boots - scrapyard workers in Asia put their health at risk every day." How poorly does the workers' health safety system operates is clear from the fact that, says DW, "The nearest hospital in Alang, India, is 50 kilometers away. A modest first-aid station from the Red Cross can only provide sparse medical care."
Damage to environment -- and people
Referring to "damage to the environment - and people", DW says, "Before the yards at Alang, India, were put into operation, the coastal town enjoyed clean, beautiful beaches. Now lax regulations concerning the handling of heavy metals have left the beaches contaminated with asbestos and oil. Time and again, workers fall victim to poisoning from the gases that escape."
Showing how workers in Alang "sort old ship machinery parts", DW believes, time has come to expedite a European Union "regulatory push" for all the yards "where European ships are allowed to be dismantled." This is particularly important because, says DW, because "Yards in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh take up 60 per cent of the ships that are decommissioned."
The degraded beach
"The average life span of an ocean liner is around 30 years", DW notes. "After that, it's off to the junkyard." It quotes he NGO Shipbreaking Platform's estimate which says that "1,026 ships were recycled worldwide last year - 641 of which were taken apart on the coasts of Asia", adding, "When big ocean freighters are taken out of commission, they usually end up in Asian scrap yards."

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