First Hand Account of Alang Shipbreaking

Alang shipbreaking yard

Published May 7, 2015 7:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Danish Shipowners' Association has visited the notorious Alang Beach in India, where large numbers of ships end their days. It would appear that positive developments are underway in some of the scrapping facilities.

Breaking up a scrapped cargo ship, which can measure over one hundred meters in length and consist of several thousand tons of steel as well as a lot of other materials, is and will remain an operation that requires the right conditions.

Maria Bruun Skipper, Director of the Danish Shipowners' Association (DR) recently visited Alang Beach in India, where over 40 percent of the world’s ships are dismantled. It is a place which has, rightly, been regularly subject to harsh international criticism for its lack of safety and environmental consideration, she says. Scrapping is performed at Alang by means of so-called beaching, in other words, the ship is simply run up onto the beach in order to be dismantled there.

“We visited four of the 175 or so scrapping facilities in the area, which it has to be said is a very small proportion and therefore not representative of Alang Beach as a whole. The aim was not to give Alang as a whole the thumbs up or down, but to take a closer look at the improvements that by all accounts some of the facilities in Alang have put in place,” said Skipper.

Benefits of being approved

One conclusion she made is that some of the scrapping facilities in Alang Beach have undergone a positive development in order to comply with the requirements that will be set by the forthcoming Hong Kong Convention. 

India implemented the Ship Recycling Code in 2013, which requires undertakings in relation to the environment and the working environment – especially handling of hazardous waste, sampling of water and soil, training of workers and health care. 

“We consequently saw, among other things, workers wearing safety equipment and undergoing six-monthly routine medical check-ups. We also noted that the shipyards were engaged in operations such as asbestos handling, and regularly compiled reports from water and soil pollution tests etc. Finally, we were able to personally observe that three of the shipyards had laid a concrete base beneath the beach to stop seepage of harmful substances,” says Skipper.

“Common sense might lead readers to ask the question: Was it all just a show put on for the occasion? The answer is: There was nothing to indicate that it was. Conversely, this was a study visit – not an audit.” 

The DR is waiting on ClassNK’s analysis of four facilities – including two of those Skipper visited. The analysis is expected to be ready in late summer 2015 and will provide answers to whether the facilities comply with the Hong Kong Convention, and also where they are in relation to the general criteria for the forthcoming EU list.

The Hong Kong Convention was adopted by the IMO in 2009, but has not yet been ratified by a sufficient number of countries to come into force. “From the Danish Shipowners' Association side, we are recommending that until then our members nevertheless follow the convention’s standards – including a list of the ship’s hazardous materials (IHM) and a corresponding scrapping plan from the facilities’ side,” says Skipper.

Small number of Danish ships scrapped

Danish shipping companies are only marginally affected by the scrapping problem. Of the approximately 1,500 merchant ships that are scrapped every year, only about 10 are Danish, and about four ships are broken up via the beaching method in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. 

“However, naturally that doesn’t mean that as an important and responsible seafaring nation, we do not have a responsibility to pull the industry in the right direction,” she says.

“We are facing tough requirements for scrapping ships, and we therefore also support the recently approved EU regulation that will entail EU flagged ships henceforward only being able to use scrapping facilities that are given the seal of approval by the EU. However, only one fifth of the global fleet sail under the EU flag, and it is therefore important – for both the environment and the working environment, but also for European shipowning companies’ competitiveness – that the European requirements are realistic, so that other parts of the world have a viable opportunity to follow suit. In all probability, the EU’s list will come into force before the global Hong Kong Convention does.”

Motivation – no opt-out

The EU’s criteria are currently being prepared. “We feel that caution should be observed in terms of, for example, excluding a place such as Alang simply because it has a bad reputation historically. Instead of opting-out, an attempt should be made to contribute to raising the standards of the scrapping facilities through dialogue, guidelines for how safety for both the environment and the working environment can be increased, and by follow-up inspections.”

Our visit was just one visit, but also an eye-opener that “Alang is not just Alang,” says Skipper. “We therefore call upon the European Commission and other authorities to take a reasonable approach. Or we risk depriving the progressive facilities in Alang of any incentive to make improvements, and ships will continue to be broken up in indefensible conditions.

“However, first and foremost, the Hong Kong Convention should come into force as quickly as possible, and that requires ratification by a number of countries – including Denmark.”