News

Reports Focus on Indian Shipbreaking

Shipbreaking yard at Alang beach, Gujarat province, India, 2009.
Shipbreaking yard at Alang beach, Gujarat province, India, 2009.
Kurt Achin

Alang beach in India's Gujarat province is one of the world's biggest shipping graveyards, an access-restricted, mafia-controlled funerary ground for hulking steel-container vessels marooned for demolition.

Eighty percent of the world's international trade crosses the globe by ship, and each year hundreds of these massive retired freighters are physically dismantled in ocean-shoreline breaking yards.

Two reports released in New Delhi this week are renewing focus on the industry's near total lack of environmental or labor oversight, and its connection to organized crime.

According Federico Demaria, an Italian economist affiliated with New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, even gaining permission to watch shipbreaking in progress can prove extremely difficult.

"Access to Alang is not permitted for foreigners, for journalists, for researchers, for anyone who can actually find out what is going on on the ground," he says, explaining that he got a glimpse of Alang in 2009, only after posing as a scrap trader.

"You are supposed to ask permission, [and] I have been waiting for it for three years now, and I've [still] not got it."

What he did get, however, was first-hand exposure to an aspect of trade and international commerce that few ever hear about.

A surreal scene
At Alang, he says, defunct trans-oceanic vessels stand like decrepit, abandoned city skyscrapers that have washed ashore, awaiting the arrival of laborers who, armed with torches, enter the structures to manually deconstruct them.

On any given day, he says, one might see a two- or three-ton slab of steel fall to the beach below, or sometimes onto workers.

Critics: Gujarat shipbreakers lack rights, India, 2009.
Critics: Gujarat shipbreakers lack rights, India, 2009.
While advocates of Indian shipbreaking say the industry recycles cheap steel into the economy, fueling development and providing jobs, critics object, citing lack of health care, adequate housing or compensation for debilitating accidents that frequently befall its labor force.

"How much do you count for a worker's life?" Demaria asks. "For example, I was not allowed to enter one ship in the Alang beach explicitly because the shipbreaker told me, 'If an accident happens, you'll be too expensive. I can't pay you.'"

Yet compensation for Indian workers, he says, is cheap. "If they [compensate their own employees for work-related injuries], they would give something like $1,000 to $2,000, which is insignificant."

A formerly regulated trade
Shipbreaking used to take place mainly in Europe, under more controlled conditions, but globalization has opened the market for unregulated operations like those in Alang, where shipping companies sell older vessels to intermediary companies that exist only on paper, who then sell the steel structures to shipbreakers.

Gopal Krishna, an Indian environmental activist, says the industry is hazardous not only to laborers, but to the entire ecosystem and people whose livelihoods depend on it.

"Most of the ships, which are 25-30 years old, are asbestos-laden. They are laden with persistent organic pollutants like PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls; with waste oil; with ballast water," he says, none of which is managed in an environmentally sound manner.

Prying eyes of industry observers, he adds, are shielded by local mafias driving the enterprise.

"It is a source of black money in the country, one of the least acknowledged sources of black money," says Krishna. "There is collusion between the ruling party and the opposition party. Business interest, the profit motive alone, guides the political parties, which provide patronage to shipbreakers. There is no rule of law in Alang."

Demaria and Krishna warn that the industry's lack of oversight could impact the West in the form of contaminated and radioactive imports wrought of improperly treated steel.

New Delhi's failure to regulate and modernize shipbreaking, they say, will probably cause India's share of the industry to be subsumed by China's shipbreaking market within a decade.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs