India, a global leader in ship breaking and recycling industry is preparing to ratify the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Hong Kong Convention. The ‘Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships’, adopted by IMO in 2009, aims to ensure that ships, when being recycled after reaching the end of their operational lives, do not pose any unnecessary risk to human health and safety or to the environment.
However, the Convention will enter into force only 24 months after it is ratified by 15 countries, in order to represent 40% of world merchant shipping by gross tonnage. Currently, just six countries have acceded, which are Norway, France, Denmark, Belgium, Panama and Congo.
India is a major ship breaking and recycling player with famous Alang ship breakyard in the state of Gujarat. More than half of the world’s ship makes its last voyage to Alang. International NGO ESCA has been criticising the yard for its alleged failure in spreading pollution and risks to workers. Under the Hong Kong convention, ships are not allowed to be dismantled on the beach sand.
The damaging environmental impacts of breaking ships in the intertidal zone of a beach are well known: slag, toxic paint particles and debris including metal scrap and plastics are released into the environment when the ship is torched and large metal pieces are simply dropped onto the sand or into the sea. Alarming levels of air, water and soil contamination at beaching yards are well documented. The rules recommend cementing of the ship breaking yards. ESCA also slammed Gujarat Maritime Board for not having a full-fledged hospital in close vicinity. The GMB’s accident statistics that it shared with ECSA show that between May 2015 and January 2016 at least 5 workers were killed in the yards.
With the signing of Hong Kong convention, India could move to globally approved ship recycling standards. In July 2017, Alang ship recycling yard was the first to get European Union compliance certification. India has taken a $76 million soft loan from Japan International Co-operation Agency for upgrading the beach stretch to the concrete floor on Alang-Sosiya stretch. Nitin Gadkari’s announcement comes at the time when India is re-elected at IMO.
– Chaitanya Kulkarni