South Asia’s dangerous ship recycling industry must shift to a more sustainable future
Finding environmental sustainability, economic expansion and human rights to drive industrial growth and progress has always been a challenge for policymakers in developing countries. The shipbreaking industry in developing countries is a region that has recently come under increasing pressure from national and global stakeholders to continue to operate in a sustainable manner.
Shipbreaking is the process of disposing of end-of-life ships, which can benefit both the economy and the environment by creating jobs and enabling ship recycling. Ship recycling is widely regarded as the most environmentally responsible and cost effective method of disposing of obsolete ships.
Ships were mostly decommissioned in Europe and the United States until the 1970s. However, due to stricter social and environmental laws in northern countries, the industry moved to areas where the legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms are weak.
According to data compiled by the non-governmental organization Ship-breaking Platform, over the past decade more than 70% of the estimated 800 ships that reach the end of their operational life each year – which represents 80% to 90% in terms of tonnage – were demolished on the beaches of Chittagong in Bangladesh, Alang in India and Gadani in Pakistan.
The beaching of ships began because of the higher price offered to shipowners, not because it was the safest, most environmentally friendly or most efficient method. When shipbreaking in South Asia began in the 1980s, coastal zone management laws were either difficult to enforce or non-existent, allowing businesses to start without any infrastructure upgrades and with a labor force. inexpensive and replaceable labor.
The beaching process works in the coastal region because ships are intentionally rooted at high tide and demolition operations are usually carried out at low tide when the ship is not submerged in the sea.
Shipbreaking is a harsh and risky sector that exposes workers to the risk of occupational hazards, as well as the environment (air, sea and soil) to a wide variety of pollutants. According to the International Labor Organization, shipbreaking has become an environmental health issue and is one of the riskiest occupations in the world.
There are many cases of fatalities and injuries in South Asian shipbreaking yards. Some of the most visible are the large steel beams and plates falling and crushing the workers under their weight, as well as the explosions, flames and lack of oxygen.
Workers whose lives could have been saved perish on the way to the nearest hospital as the situation is exacerbated by the fact that there are no hospital facilities capable of providing medical services to seriously injured workers in the immediate area of shipbreaking beaches.
Over the past decade, 210 workers have died while working in the Chittagong shipbreaking yards. According to the International Law and Policy Institute’s 2016 report, 470 workers died in Alang between 2005 and 2012, and an additional 50 deaths were recorded between 2013 and 2018.
Lack of direction
Despite the dangerous working conditions and lax enforcement of labor laws, shipowners from Western countries suggest sending their ships to South Asia to get a better cost than other shipbreaking yards in the world. Payments to the shipowner for the sale of an end-of-life ship are determined by the price offered by the recycler per light ton of steel moved. The price varies by region and tends to fluctuate over time due to external factors such as transportation costs and national currency depreciation.
In addition to the price disparity caused by different national industries for steel products, the price issue reflects the cost differences associated with environmental management and safety. Beaching yards pass these costs on to surrounding areas, workers and local communities, allowing them to raise ship prices. Basically, the higher the price offered, the more serious the violation will be in terms of the preservation of workers and the environment.
Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards are located just outside of Chittagong, the country’s largest port city. They stretch for about 15 km along the coast of the Sitakund region. Due to its dirty and risky methods, shipbreaking in Bangladesh is heavily criticized by international and local NGOs.
There are many laws in Bangladesh such as Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act 2018, Ship Demolition and Recycling Rules 2011, Hazardous Waste and Ship Demolition Waste Management Rules of 2011, the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation Ordinance 1972. , the Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1983 and the Factories Act 1965.
Unfortunately, no legislation has been enacted to explain the cost of living of shipworkers. Additionally, research by the Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission and news reports have revealed labor rights violations, disregard for labor laws and breaches of safety standards.
Benefits of trade
The main advantage of shipbreaking yards in South Asia is that they absorb large numbers of migrant workers and place them in low-paying jobs. In addition to providing job opportunities, shipbreaking yards generate significant revenue for the government and contribute significantly to the steel standards of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
The shipbreaking industry employs about 40,000 people in Bangladesh, ranging from management to administration and technical work. Shipbreaking accounts for about 60% of Bangladesh’s total steel demand. Around 30,000 people are directly employed in the industry in Alang, and the annual turnover is around Rs 6,000 crore. There are around 12,000 workers at the shipbreaking yards in Gadani, Pakistan, and the sector contributes 15% of the country’s steel demand.
But the economy, jobs, steel production and the environment are currently under threat. In recent years, the number of ships arriving in South Asian countries for recycling has decreased. The causes of this situation in the shipbreaking yards of South Asia are multiple, but the most significant element is the non-compliance with labor and environmental laws and regulations, accompanied by the campaign of international authorities for a sustainable demolition sector.
Over the past decade, international organizations have increasingly focused on effective compliance with international conventions such as the Basel Convention of 1989 and the rules established by the International Labor Organization and the Maritime Organization international community to identify the multiple problems of ship demolition.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal entered into force in 1992 and governs the global trade in hazardous wastes. It is relevant for ship dismantling because the structure of a ship usually contains hazardous waste. The Convention prohibits the export of toxic waste, as well as ships, to developing countries, but is largely ignored by the shipping industry to facilitate the continued outsourcing of environmental and labor costs .
A beach, in fact, does not have the necessary environmental conditions to recycle a ship in a sustainable way. Even if asbestos and Polychlorinated Biphenyls treatment devices were set up on the stranding sites, the fundamental problem of containment and collection of pollution would remain unsolved. Toxic materials within the ship’s structure must be properly identified, located, removed and discarded.
Concerned about labor rights and environmental pollution in shipbreaking yards, the European Union Commission created the Ship Recycling Regulatory Code, which came into force on December 30, 2018, and obliges shipowners to send their ships only to certified green shipyards.
A third of all end-of-life ships dismantled on the beaches of South Asia are under the responsibility of European shipowners. No shipbreaking yards from Bangladesh, Pakistan or India have been listed as EU Green Regulation shipyards on ship recycling due to a lack of waste storage facilities appropriate, employee health and welfare facilities and shipowners’ cooperation in providing the required services documents.
If the scenario on the ground does not improve and shipyards do not turn to sustainable shipbreaking practices, the situation in South Asian countries will be very worrying. The yards do not have many options to survive because domestic politics, power structures and pressure groups will not persuade shipowners, who increasingly prefer green yards in Turkey, China and countries Europeans, to dismantle their ships.
Some South Asian shipyards may succeed in regulatory maneuvers in the short term, but this cannot be sustained in the long term.
This article first appeared in the Dhaka Tribune.