Library / 16 June 2006
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Ship recycling is lifeline of shipping industry
by P S Nagarsheth,
16 June 2006 (Mumbai)Ship recycling is eco-friendly, employment oriented and energy conserver. The major issue concerned with ship recycling is occupational hazard and not environmental.

The average life of a ship is about 27 years. Once a ship loses its economic life, it has to be replaced with a new one. The most environment friendly and economic way for the disposal of such ships is recycling. Therefore, ship recycling has become a must. If India refuses to recycle a ship, it will go to any other ship recycling country like Bangladesh, Pakistan, China or Turkey. But, the fact remains that the ship has to be recycled.

Ship recycling is one of the most important businesses of the shipping industry. Ships for recycling are sold free of cargo and such ships cannot be termed as hazardous cargo or waste. The International Labour Organisation (IMO) has even declared ship recycling as a green industry. Ship recycling is actually an environment friendly activity. It saves five times the non-replenishable natural resources, energy and water. It does not release hydrocarbon. It generates negligible solid waste compared to major steel plants producing steel through the iron ore route. Thus, ship recycling is eco-friendly, employment oriented and energy conserver.

All the three international bodies viz. the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (Basel Convention) have undisputedly agreed that ship recycling is not just the responsibility of the ship recycler but of all the stakeholders like the ship builders, ports of registry and ship owners alike. It is an accepted fact that the ‘pollutant has to pay’. Further, as per most of the NGOs, ship owners have the highest responsibility in such cases as they have earned the most by plying the ship for 25 years. Therefore, one cannot pass the entire responsibility on the ship recycler who owns the ship just for six months.

The major issue concerned with ship recycling is occupational hazard and not environmental as alleged in adverse publicity by several NGOs. Further, when we talk of adverse impact on environment, we should also consider and compare the benefits from an activity. If the benefits override the adverse impact, which is so in the case of ship recycling as mentioned above, we should definitely encourage the activity.

The issue of concern relates to a few items declared at present as hazardous materials that were used in the past such as asbestos as insulation for boiler and steam pipes in ships. One cannot ignore the fact that the quantity of such items involved is not even one per cent of the total weight of a ship and therefore it is illogical to term the whole ship as a hazardous waste. It may be noted that asbestos were used in ships built before 1985. All the ships built after 1985 may not contain asbestos. The presence of asbestos in ships coming for recycling is a temporary phenomenon. Therefore, the issue of presence of asbestos in ships is transitory in nature.

In some old turbine vessels such as the present instance of the SS Norway and the Le Clemenceau against which the NGOs have campaigned might contain more quantity of asbestos. Even in such cases, the quantity is insignificant and accounts for only 2 to 3 per cent of the total weight of the ship.

Further, the Government of India has not banned the import, manufacture and trading in asbestos in the country. Then, why should there be separate treatment for ships containing asbestos? The quantity of asbestos present is immaterial, what is important is its proper removal and handling. The NGOs should have insisted on providing proper protection to workers who are handling the asbestos rather than protesting against the import of ships.

Another concern area that the NGOs have been raising is the use of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), another hazardous material, in the old ships. PCBs, however, is no more used in the manufacture of paint since 1976. Moreover, most ships are regularly repainted. Therefore, ships arriving for demolition after 1976 are mostly repainted and the question of presence of PCB in such ships does not arise.

The Basel Convention also does not declare ships as hazardous wastes. So, there is no trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste in the case of ships for recycling.

India should take advantage of this nature’s bounty as the country immensely benefits from this activity including large-scale employment. Even the government has recognised the importance of this industry. The Ministry of Steel and the Ministry of Shipping have recommended for the reduction in duty and other relief measures for reviving the sagging fortunes of the ship-breaking industry considering its employment generating and other potentials. When the activity was in a full swing, it had provided direct employment to about 35,000 persons and indirect employment to over a lakh. The whole region had prospered from this activity.

However, major part of this activity has now shifted to Bangladesh, due to the present tax structure and the unilateral implementation of international ship recycling guidelines by India, particularly the requirement of ‘gas-free for hot work certification,’ and the prerequisite under the Supreme Court directive of declaring prior inventory of ship.

As per the present practice, the sale of ships in the international market is routed by ship owners through intermediaries, who are mostly one-ship companies. Such temporary owners who own ships only for a few days employ contractual crew for the single voyage of ship for delivery to recycling yard. Therefore, such owners or crew are not able to give factual inventory of ship, particularly about the inbuilt hazardous waste of a ship, which in the past must have changed names and owners several times. Another problem faced by the Indian ship recycler in many cases is the risk the company faces after the purchase of a ship. In most cases, the identity of owners and sellers are not traceable for any legal remedy in case of need. The customs officials also do not accept the descriptions filed for a ship arrived for breaking if it is not registered in the name of the seller and does not have the registration certificate from the port of registry.

Thus, India, which maintained the number one position in ship recycling industry for so many years, is now placed at number two after Bangladesh. The industry is global in nature. Therefore, the regulations should be made applicable uniformly to all ship recycling countries to have a level playing field.

It should be noted that the same NGOs who are spearheading the campaign in India against the so called toxic waste in ships have not been able to make any impact in other ship breaking countries on similar issues. They are grossly misusing the freedom of press and judiciary in democratic India. One wonders about the suspected motive of such campaigns, which help the western countries to develop subsidised ship recycling in Europe as is being practiced at present in the USA. Further, have the same NGOs, who are making such hue and cry about import of ships containing asbestos done anything to improve the plight of the workers on whose behalf they are campaigning?

We do not dispute about the occupational hazards and safety of workers, which we believe should not be compromised. The order passed by the Supreme Court of India in October 2003, has not banned the ship recycling activity for the presence of asbestos in ships. The Supreme Court in fact appointed two monitoring committees then, one under the chairmanship of G Tyagarajan and the other the Inter-Ministerial Committee under the Ministry of Steel, for monitoring the ship recycling activity in the country.

The Indian ship recycling industry has made lot of improvements at the ship-recycling yard, following the formation of these committees. Some of them are: mandatory license from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board; registration and monitoring of records as mandatory requirements for the usage of approved land filling sites; beaching of tankers forbidden without ‘gas-free for hot-work’ certification; No breaking permissions are granted without removing the entire quantity of bunker from the ships; yards are required to obtain inventory of loose hazardous materials from the master of ship before undertaking recycling operations.

The NGOs have also exaggerated the casualty figures at Alang. In fact, due to the various improvements undertaken, the accident rate has come down substantially. Deaths in 2004 have come down to 6 compared to 11 in 2003. However, due to the unilateral strict measures adopted by India in this region, it is a fact that the recycling industry is getting diverted to non-regulated countries.

[Nagarsheth is the president of the Iron Steel Scrap and Shipbreakers Association of India.]

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