Jun 26, 2010

Shipbreaking emits toxics without treating in Southeast Asia: hits bio-diversity

Toxic chemicals & materials emitted from ship breaking hit the life of human beings in the South Asian Countries like Bangladesh & India seriously. Toxic metals & chemicals are emitted directly in the water without treating those which is very harmful to the environment, sea plants, animals and biodiversity. There should have some policies on the issue of sea pollution, experts observe.
Ship breaking means ship demolition which is a type of ship disposal involving the breaking up of ships for scrap recycling, with the hulls being discarded in ship graveyards. Most ships have a lifespan of a few decades before there is so much wear that refitting and repair becomes uneconomical. Ship breaking allows materials from the ship, especially steel, to be reused. Equipment on board the vessel can also be reused.

In addition to steel and other useful materials, however, ships (particularly older vessels) can contain many substances that are banned or considered dangerous in developed countries. Asbestos and poly chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are typical examples. Asbestos was used heavily in ship construction until it was finally banned in most of the developed world in the mid 1980s.
Now, the costs associated with removing asbestos, along with the potentially expensive insurance and health risks, have meant that ship-breaking in most developed countries is no longer economically viable. Removing the metal for scrap can potentially cost more than the value of the scrap metal itself.
Besides, the developing world, however, shipyards can operate without the risk of personal injury lawsuits or workers' health claims, meaning many of these shipyards may operate with high health risks. Protective equipment is sometimes absent or inadequate. Dangerous vapors and fumes from burning materials can be inhaled, and dusty asbestos-laden areas are commonplace.
Apart from the health of the yard workers, in recent years, ship breaking has also become an issue of major environmental concern. Many ship breaking yards in developing nations have lax or no environmental law, enabling large quantities of highly toxic materials to escape into the environment and causing serious health problems among ship breakers, the local population and wildlife. Environmental campaign groups such as Greenpeace and Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA) have made the issue a high priority for their campaigns.

When huge waves hit Bangladesh's sleepy southeastern Sitakundu coastline after a cyclone in 1991, shopkeeper Monir Ahmed survived by hanging on to a coconut tree.

Monir Ahmed's parents, brother, sister and young nephew and niece were among the 138,000 people killed that May when a tidal surge from the force-five cyclone destroyed his family's house and the tiny fishing village they called home.Those who survived -- including Monir Ahmed and his wife -- owe their lives to the protection provided by the trees, which is why they are concerned about the deforestation they're witnessing around them. "In 1991 we survived, but now we are surrounded by ship-breaking yards, there are hardly any trees left," Monir Ahmed said.
In just two decades, Sitakundu beach has been transformed from a quiet, leafy shoreline into a sprawling industrial hub, home to one of Bangladesh's largest, most profitable and most controversial industries: ship-breaking.
Thirty percent of the world's condemned ships are recycled in Bangladesh, and the industry creates tens of thousands of jobs and provides three-quarters of the country's steel -- but at a serious environmental cost.
Local environmentalists say Bangladesh is on the front line of climate change and that rampant deforestation, particularly by ship-breaking yards, is making things worse.

In the past three years, Bangladesh has been hit by two cyclones (Cyclone Sidr, Aila ) left 15,000 people dead, displaced millions and caused one billion dollars worth of damage.

"The ship-breakers have gobbled up most of the plantations, showing scant regard to the government's environmental laws." Felling old growth forests is illegal in Bangladesh but laws are not enforced as ship-breaking is a billion dollar industry and yards owners are some of the country's top business tycoons, environmentalists said.
From the records, in the 1970's ship breaking was done in the docks Europe. It was a highly mechanized industrial operation. But as European countries grew more conscious of environmental standards, and health and safety measures, costs of scrapping began to escalate. So where could ship owners go so that their profit margins would not be eroded?

About 90% of the ship breaking industry predictably moved to Asian countries, to India, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan and Turkey, poorer nations with lax environmental and safety standards. Every year 600-700 sea vessels are brought to the once pristine beaches of Asia for scrapping.
In India most of the ships are beached at Alang, in Gujarat, on the West Coast of India. After the beaching of the MV Kota Tenjong in 1983, this once beautiful beach has become the world's leading ship breaking yard.
Beaches where ship breaking happens in Asia, are now graveyards littered with machinery parts, oil rags and leaking barrels, the air poisoned by open fires, the land and surrounding water contaminated by asbestos, heavy metals, dioxins and other persistent organic pollutants. In Alang of India & Shitakondo of Bangladesh, one can see women carrying asbestos waste on their heads and dumping it in the sea.

On the beaches of Alang in India and Chittagong in Bangladesh, and in other Asian ship breaking yards, one can see workers with bare hands using acetylene torch cutters to dismantle huge sea carriers into small pieces. They don't have gloves, they're unprotected from toxic substances, explosions and falling steel. Untrained and desperately poor, they are willing to work without the gas masks and safety equipment mandatory in first world countries, for a pittance of 150 to 200 takas (2.00 or 2.50 USD) a day.

As some countries wise up to the problems of ship breaking and bring in legislation, ship owners merely move operations to even poorer countries. Residual gas in the tanks of dead ships, pose a huge risk of explosion to workers. In 2000, an explosion in a gas tanker killed 20-40 workers in Bangladesh. Bangladesh does not enforce mandatory "gas- free for hot works" certifications which ensure that the ships are free of gas residues before they're scrapped. Ship owners get between 115 to 200 US dollars per ton of ship while scrapping. Degassing costs them only 2 US dollars per ton.
Earlier, speakers at a roundtable said Bangladesh's national fish Hilsa may go extinct in five years if ship breaking activities continue to degrade the environment.
They said 10 different species of seawater fishes have become extinct and 21 have become rare in the country due to the environmental damages caused by ship breaking yards and warned that if these activities go on more species would join the list, including the national fish.