India now enjoys the dubious distinction of having emerged as the largest centre of ship-breaking in the world with 415 ships having been broken in the ship-breaking yards of Alang in 2011-12.
Another 150 giant behemoths, used to ferry millions of tons of goods across the globe but no longer seaworthy, are waiting there to be broken down. From 1983 to 2012, statistics collected by Toxics Watch Alliance show that 532 “toxic” ships have been broken down along the Gujarat coastline.
Pakistan has emerged as the number two ship-breaking country followed by Bangladesh and China, but in the latter country ships are broken in dry docks and not along the coast.
Gopal Krishna, heading Toxics Watch Alliance, said, “The number of ships allowed to enter the country are steadily rising because of the lax regulatory climate prevailing here. The ministry of shipping and the ministry of environment and forests are appraised of the matter but have taken no steps to ban this illegal activity.”
The Alang shipping yard has been described as an “industrial wasteland” where thousands of workers from UP, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa are tearing down these steel hulks risking injury and illness apart from being exposed to deadly fumes and other hazardous materials.
A parliamentary committee on coal and steel headed by Trinamul Congress MP Kalyan Banerjee and the other parliamentary committee on transport headed by CPI(M) MP Sitaram Yechury are looking into the issue of how many of these ships continue to enter Indian waters on false documents thereby also raising issues of national security.
The Supreme Court has in the context of a US ship (Exxon Valdez currently named MV Oriental) also issued a stern warning that end-of-life vessels not be allowed to dock in Indian waters unless they comply with the Basel Convention.