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

Off Alang shipbeaking yard
By Our Representative
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.

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