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In 4 Years, More Than 700 Dead Ships Dumped in Alang

Press Note

In 4 Years, More Than 700 Dead Ships Dumped in Alang

Fake Documents Facilitate corporate crimes of shipping companies

New Delhi/13/12/2009: Misplaced claims were made in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha on December 11, 2009 saying, "Ship breaking activities are undertaken at Alang and the operational procedures are being followed as per the directions issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. As per the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of 17.02.2006, a Central Technical Committee (CTC) under the Chairmanship of Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests was set up to regulate various activities of ship breaking industries. The CTC gave its recommendations touching all aspects of ship breaking. The recommendations are operative by virtue of the Supreme Court Order dated 6.9.2007." Almost all the relevant orders of the court has been violated. Most starkly, the apex court order of 2007 states, "It is desirable that the Government of India shall formulate a comprehensive Code incorporating the recommendations and the same has to be operative until the concerned Statutes are amended to be in line with the recommendations." But so far the court's order even with regard to the Code has not been complied with although more than two years have passed since the judgement dated 6.9.2007.

In 2006-07, 136 ships came to Alang. Between 2007-08 too, 136 ships came to Alang and in 2008-09, the number was 264 ships and this year up to November 2009, 214 ships have come to Gujarat's Alang beach. This information was given by A. Sai Prathap, Union Minister of State for Steel in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha on 11 December, 2009.

The alarming rise in the rate of reported death of workers in Alang is contrary to the Ministry's claim that "Based on the report received from Gujarat Maritime Board, it is stated that at present, there are around 17000-18000 trained labours engaged in ship recycling at Alang by the Ship Recyclers." The MInister's statement is inconsistent with what has routinely appeared even in the local and national media. In 2009 alone, too many fatal accidents have occurred. It is estimated that 3-5 workers die every month either from occupational disease from shipborne hazardous substances like asbestos or PCBs, or from explosions, fires and other accidents. The primary reason why workers die in a regular manner is that the shipowners of the developed countries like US and from Europe have escaped the decontamination cost of obsolete ships with impunity due to the active connivance of Indian officials. Since 1983, the shipbreakers have blindly profited from such a situation at the cost of workers' life, villagers health and toxic pollution.

On 4 August, 2009, 6 workers perished in a tanker fire at the yards in Alang beach that took 6 hours to extinguish. These six labourers were burnt alive in an engine room at Alang ship breaking yard on on plot no. 24 at Alang beach despite the fact that UN’s International Maritime Organisation has certified Alang beach as a safe place for hazardous industrial activity like ship dismantling. The incident took place when some workers of Alang Auto & General Engineering Co. (P) Ltd were cutting down the engine portion of ship ‘M S Jesica’ in the world’s largest ship scrapping yard. The fire officials took almost three hours to douse the blaze. The exact cause of fire is yet to be ascertained. The company is owned by Udai Agarwal and Abhinav Kumar. Earlier, two fatal accidents have been reported in May and June 2009. The earlier accident that occurred on the 1st June, 2009 on Plot 15 of the ship-breaking yard involved a labourer identified as Ayodhyasingh Rajput. Such fatal accident occurred at Plot 24 D in May, 2009 as well. Similar accidents were reported in earlier and later months as well. Each time 'negliegence' is cited as reason and the matter is dismissed.

The Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Shipbreaking, Union Ministry of Steel has revealed cruel passivity in its response to the deaths of migrant workers in Alang so far.
It has not ascertained the plight of migrant workers working and their living environment at Alang beach and also to explore whether the industrial activity can be taken off the beach. The Supreme Court order of October 14, 2003 and September 6, 2007 led to the creation of an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) comprising Ministry of Surface Transport, Ministry of Steel, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Environment and Forests was constituted and its continuance. Para 58 of the 2003 order and para 8 of 2007 order reads, "According to the recommendation of HPC, the Iner-Ministerial Committee (IMC) comprising Ministry of Surface Transport, Ministry of -Steel, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Environment should be constituted with the involvement of Labour and Environment organizations and representatives of the ship breaking Industries." Involvement of labour and environment organisations in compliance of the court's specific order has not been ensured as was required as per the order.

The shipping industry which dominates the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has adopted a regressive treaty on shipbreaking/ship recycling in May 2009. This effort of IMO has been condemned by the civil society groups as an industry “greenwash” of the horrific status quo. IMO officials have even called the shipbreaking beaches in Alang where workers die routinely, as being “very satisfying.” Contrary to the claims of the IMO, the brutal death of these workers stand as a stark testament to the unsuitability of using ocean beaches for the safe and sound recycling of ships.“Such practices would never be allowed in the UK and it should not be allowed in any country in the world. Shipping companies like Norwegian Cruise LIner/ Star Cruise and others must be made liable and accountable for decontamination costs which they are attempting to escape for good. They should not be allowed to make the laws by which they will insulate themselves.

The continued embargo on both national and international media which stops journalists and researchers from entering the “beaches” is meant to hide these “grave yards” of workers and coastal communities from public attention. It is an unpardonable colossal failure of IMO to allow the ship dismantling/recycling industry to contaminate the fragile coastal environment like beaches.” In Europe, government owned ships are being broken only in sophisticated yards located in developed countries while commercial vessels are still too often exported even when such exports violate the law. Just this year, the Able UK shipyard, received the French Aircraft Carrier Clemenceau after French courts ruled that export to India was illegal under the Waste Shipment Regulation. It took over 18 months to decontaminate the ship.

Enviro-occupational hazards induced injury and disease happen in a routine manner in Alang. Union Environment Secretary headed Supreme Court-appointed committee in its report has revealed that the fatal accident rate in Alang is in the range of 2 per 1000 as opposed to 0.34 per 1000 in the mining industry (which is considered worst in the industrial sector). Besides accidents ship-breakers who employ workers on contract never monitor the impact on their health of the toxic substances they are exposed to. Given the lack of monitoring/medical survelliance or tracking of workers who are all migrant workers, its very difficult to ascertain the real health impact on the workers, which we belive to be quite grave. A occupational health survey conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Health of workers at the ship-breaking yards in Alang found that 16 % of the workers examined were exposed to asbestos that leads to incurable lung cancer and other diseases. A recent Central Pollution Control Board study recommends that workers who handle asbestos must be permanentlt employed but it had not been implemented either in the shipbreaking industry or in the asbestos industry.

With regard to rampant manufacturing and cooking of documents underway in Alang, the papers of most of these more than 700 ships that entered Indian waters must be investigated and the likelihood of they having violated both the international and national laws ought to be looked into. Professor M.G.K. Menon, the distinguished scientist who headed the Supreme Court's High Powered Committee on Management of Hazardous Wastes had written to the Chief Justice of India "in a personal capacity as someone who is interested as a citizen of the country." He emphasised that the obsolete ships be "properly decontaminated by the ship-owner prior to the breaking in the country of export." He wrote: "Any effort to dilute the Supreme Court orders of October 14, 2003 to try to remove the concept of prior decontamination would be a measure going against the interests of workers in the ship-breaking yards as also a violation of the Basel Convention."

The case of fake documents in the case of dead US ship Platinum II (SS Independence, SS OCeanic) reveals the hollowness of Union Steel Ministry's claim that "Pursuant to the directives of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, a series of measures have been taken for attenuating the hazards of ship breaking and for improving the working conditions at ship-breaking yards. Consequently, detailed protocols and procedures have been put in place for scrutinizing ships arriving for breaking and for handling and disposing of hazardous materials and wastes. The provisions of existing rules take adequate care of the hazards of ship breaking. Further, as and when any shortcomings are noticed, remedial steps are taken." Besides civil society groups, even industry has voiced its concerns. Notably, "The government has rejected this ship for fabrication of document. It's the first time that the this issue has come up though it is rampant -- ships are brought in without clear identification of the owners and the port of registration. It's important to correct this for the security of the country and the shipbreakers," said Pravin Nagarsheth, president of the Iron Steel Scrap and Shipbreaking Association of India as reported in The Times of India (10 November 2009).

In the light of the above, the government must ensure that economics of ship-breaking/recycling is not be built on the destroyed lives of those who dismantle the ships. IMO Convention on ship recycling is anti-worker and anti-environment and is contrary to Prof. Menon's sane advice and our Supreme Court's order. Therefore, to protect the interest of the workers and the Alang beach must be protected by refusing to support the regressive text the IMO treaty and by ensuring that the industrial activity is taken off the beach and away from the ecologically fragile coastal environment. The currently practiced “beaching method” whereby obsolete ships are run aground on ocean beaches for cutting and breaking apart in the intertidal zone can never be accomplished in a manner which is environmentally sound or protective of human health. On careful analysis of the intrinsic characteristics of beaching operations invloved in the current pratice of shipbreaking/recycling, it would emerge that no amount of prescriptive improvements or protections can remedy the fatal characteristics of intertidal beaching operations. These fatal flaws of the beaching method inevitably will result in causing avoidable death and pollution.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance/Indian Platform on Shipbreaking, Mb: 9818089660, E-mail: 9818089660

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