Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
‘Ship Breaking In Asia And Liability Regime’
Greenpeace is an international environmentalist organisation, based at Amsterdam, having offices in all countries including India. It focuses particularly on the extreme hazards of ship breaking in the Asian countries, most particularly at Alang, Gujarat, which is the largest ship breaking yard in the world.
The seminar was chaired by Paul Bailey from the ILO, Switzerland, and attended by about 30 persons and stakeholders including ship owners, ship breakers, the Netherlands ministry of environment, and Greenpeace toxic campaigners from Belgium, Greece, Switzerland and Luxembourg.
CITU secretary P K Ganguly was invited to participate and place a paper in the seminar. The other trade union functionary invited was Ms Astrid Kaag, policy advisor of the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV). Ms Jantien Meijer of the India Committee of the Netherlands also attended the seminar as an invitee.
The other environmentalist institutions invited were represented by Sunita Dubey of the Environmental Justice Initiative from India; Rupa Abdi from Bhavanagar University; Ravi Agarwal, Director of Toxics Link, India; Bernard Veldhoven, environmentalist lawyer from the Netherlands and Shahriar Shakir of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association. Tom Peter Blankestijn, a ship owner from Netherlands, and P S Nager Seth, president of the Ship Breakers’ Association from India, were also present.
After general introduction by Josine Stremmelaar of the IIAS and Gerd Leipold of Greenpeace, presentations were made by the above 9 persons.
THE HAZARDS OF SHIP BREAKING
It is to be noted that ship breaking has become a mega private industry in various parts of the world, giving large profits to the owners. The main purpose is to recover steel from the ships. After these ships have exhausted their average life of 25-30 years in the sea, they are sent by the advanced capitalist countries to the ship breaking yards, mostly in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, etc, for breaking. Here they recover the steel and other materials, and sell them in local markets, garnering huge profits. Alang near Bhavanagar, Gujarat, is the largest ship breaking yard in the world, accounting for about 70 per cent of the ship breaking in the world.
In India, ship breaking contributes to over 10 per cent of the country’s annual steel production, recovering about 2.5 million tonnes. But the entire process is notorious for extreme hazards. In the name of international trade in ships for scrap, ships laden with highly toxic and hazardous substances like asbestos in all its forms, poly-chlorinated biphenyles (PCBs), zinc, lead, inflammable oil products, explosives, etc, are sent to Alang and other countries for breaking --- in contravention of the Basel Convention on Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, held in 1989 under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
This convention, attended by the OECD countries and several non-OECD countries including India, identified all the above substances found in-built in the ships as highly toxic and hazardous. It unanimously prohibited their trans-boundary movements from the OECD counties to the non-OECD countries. It further called upon the OECD countries to decontaminate the ships at the port of origin before sending them to the non-OECD countries for breaking. The convention also noted that technologies for decontamination were available with the OECD countries. However, this unanimous decision of the convention is being violated by the all OECD countries including the USA, the Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, UK, etc. Recently the Greenpeace successfully fought a case in the Supreme Court of the Netherlands to stop a Dutch ship “Sandrein” from sailing to Alang for breaking. In India too, the Supreme Court gave a verdict not to import the hazardous substances in the contaminated ships, as per the Basel convention.
CONDITION OF ALANG WORKERS
P K Ganguly’s paper further focused at the harrowing conditions at the Alang ship breaking yard.
The ship breaking yard at Alang employs about 40,000 workers, all casual and mostly migrant from Orissa, Bihar and UP. Fatal accidents vary between 40 annually as acknowledged by Gujarat Maritime Board and 400 as reported by the workers at different work places. Most accidents occur due to gas explosion, cylinder bursts during dismantling of the engine, cutting top most parts of the ship, during torch cutting process, etc. Asbestos dust in all its toxic forms, viz white, blue and brown, is present everywhere. It even reaches inside the workers’ make-shift accommodations through their garments. It causes asbestosis, cancer of the lung pleura and the peritoneum. There is constant inhalation of fumes containing arsenic, lead, tributyl tin oxide, mercury, zinc, strontium, PCBs, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and so on. Reports from the Red Cross hospitals and other hospitals point to irreparable damage this process causes to the human immuno system, reproductive system, etc.
Apart from such damages caused to the life and health of the workers and the people around, the ship breaking operations cause enormous pollution to the environment and the sea. The scene is that of “everything burns.” Waste oil is burned at the shore in Alang. In Mumbai, it is pumped into the sea. Everything and all unusable parts of the ship, which cannot be sold, are thrown into the fire, generating a number of pollutants.
Although ship breaking in India is done under various statutes like the Factory Act (1948), Explosives Act (1984), Petroleum Storage Act (1976), Explosive Substances Act (1908) etc, the workers here work mostly without any protective equipments. The huge workforce is totally contractual. There is no minimum wage, no social security measures, no job security, no health scheme, no medical facilities, no accident compensation, no housing facilities, no maternity benefit, no safe drinking water, etc. In short, there is a jungle rule prevailing in this sphere for the 40,000 workers.
CONCLUSIONS ARRIVED AT
There was a big debate, generating heat, while drawing the conclusions. There was a consensus that the Basel convention decisions should be implemented, and the only one isolated was the president of the Ship Breakers Association from India. However, the following conclusions could be arrived at unanimously:
MEETING WITH MINISTERS
One day after the seminar, a six-member delegation comprising two toxic campaigners of the Greenpeace International, their Indian counterpart, two representatives from Bangladesh and P K Ganguly from India met the ministers of environment and transport of the Netherlands and three prominent ship owners of the country at the Hague, and conveyed the message of the seminar.
The six-number team then visited Greece for three days and met the Greek maritime minister and some Greece ship owners to convey the message.
The battle will be taken up again in the meeting of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), to be held in London on July 14.
In India, it is necessary to carry forward the struggle through trade union activities.