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South Asian Shipbreakers Continue to Dominate Scrap Trade

south asian shipbreaking
File image courtesy NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Published Feb 6, 2022 11:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

According to NGO Shipbreaking Platform, injuries and fatalities, exploitation of migrants and environmental pollution continue to characterize the ship dismantling industry in South Asia, which accounted for over two thirds of the tonnage recycled last year. 

NGO Shipbreaking Platform's 2021 ship dismantling data shows that a total of 763 ocean-going commercial ships and floating offshore units were sold to scrap yards last year. Of these, 583 of the largest tankers, bulkers, floating platforms, cargo- and passenger ships ended up on the beaches of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

According to the NGO, the vast majority of these ships continue to be broken up under conditions that pollute and expose workers to immense risk, which has led to rising numbers of injuries and fatalities in the dismantling yards.

“All ship owners are aware of the dire situation at the beaching yards and the lack of capacity to safely handle the many toxic materials onboard vessels. Yet, with the help of scrap dealers, the vast majority choose to scrap their end-of-life fleet in South Asia, as that is where they can make the highest profits,” said Ingvild Jenssen, NGO Shipbreaking Platform, Executive Director.

According to the coalition, shipowners in the United Arab Emirates sent the most tonnage to South Asian beaches in 2021. UAE owners sold 60 ships for scrapping in South Asia, most of which were beached in Bangladesh and Pakistan. That may change in the future: recently, the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure proposed a new regulation to promote sustainable ship recycling, including a ban on the use of beaching facilities. Singapore, Greece and the U.S. follow, with more than 40 ships beached each. 

The NGO says that in South Asia, workers - the majority of whom are exploited migrants, some of them children - are exposed to immense risks. The dangerous working conditions include fires and falling steel plates, resulting in a high number of injuries and fatalities. Many more are sickened by exposure to toxic fumes and substances that can be found within the ships’ structures. 

Last year, at least 14 workers lost their lives when breaking apart vessels on the beach of Chattogram, Bangladesh, and another 34 were severely injured. There were two deaths in Alang, India, two deaths in Gadani, Pakistan and five deaths at the Turkish ship recycling yards in Alia?a.

“The sector suffers from a serious lack of transparency, and it is expected that several accidents go unreported,” said Sara Costa, NGO Shipbreaking Platform Project Officer.

According to the NGO, although environmental and labor laws that regulate ship recycling exist, they are often ignored and easily circumvented by ship owners, often with the aid of scrap dealers.

Almost half of the ships sold to South Asia last year changed flag to one of the Paris MOU black list flags of Comoros, Palau and St Kitts & Nevis just weeks before hitting the beach. At least seventeen of these flag changes enabled ship owners to circumvent the EU Ship Recycling Regulation. Only 37 vessels were recorded recycled in EU-approved facilities last year.

The EU recently added 44 sites around the world to the list of approved ship recycling facilities. No South Asian yards have been approved yet, though recent reports indicate that the door remains open.