The shipping industry continues to exploit workers and the environment for profit.
According to new data released by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform on Feb 1, 2021, 630 ocean-going commercial ships and offshore units were sold to the scrap yards in 2020. Of these vessels, 446 large tankers, bulkers, floating platforms, cargo– and passenger ships were broken down on three beaches in South Asia, amounting to near 90% of the gross tonnage dismantled globally.
Ships are considered hazardous waste under international environmental law as they contain many toxic materials and substances within their structures, and onboard as residues. These toxics include, amongst others, cadmium, lead batteries, asbestos, mercury, ozone depleting substances, PAHs, and residue oils, which all need to be managed in a safe and environmentally sound manner. Their export from developed to developing countries is banned by UNEP’s Basel Convention.
On the beaches of Alang in India, Chattogram in Bangladesh, and Gadani in Pakistan, where near 90% of the global world tonnage was scrapped last year, the negative consequences of shipbreaking are real and felt by many. Workers – often exploited migrants, some of them children – are exposed to immense risks. They are killed or seriously injured by fires and falling steel plates, and sickened by exposure to toxic fumes and substances. Coastal biomes, and the local communities depending on them, are devastated by toxic spills and air pollution due to the lack of infrastructure to contain, properly manage and dispose of the many hazardous materials embedded in the ships.
Since 2009, 407 human lives have been lost in the shipbreaking yards. Last year, at least 10 workers lost their lives when breaking apart vessels in Bangladesh. At least another 14 were severely injured. Despite repeated attempts to obtain official statistics, no information on accidents at the Indian and Pakistani yards has been made available.
The sector suffers from a serious lack of transparency, and it is expected that many accidents go unreported. Many more workers suffer from cancers and other occupational diseases. The detention of BBC reporters and confiscation of footage from France 2 journalists by local officers from the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB), which controls the port in Alang, reveals how the industry seeks to thwart public scrutiny of the deplorable conditions at the yards.
Ingvild Jenssen, Executive Director and Founder of NGO Shipbreaking Platform says “It is a scandal that laws and standards aimed at protecting people and the environment are ignored when scrapping the near totality of the global fleet. Governments, the clients, financiers and insurers of shipping, as well as the employees of shipping, need to take a much stronger stance against this exploitation of vulnerable communities and fragile ecosystems.”
Read the full report here: NGO Shibreaking Platform Press Release.