The international spotlight has been on the beaches of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, where vessels have been driven onto the shore as hundreds of poorly-protected workers descend to strip down and dismantle them, regardless of the potential health and environmental problems they encounter.
In light of pressure to improve workers’ conditions and reduce pollution in the region, a ruling from India’s Supreme Court last year has forced the country’s ship breakers to clean up their act.
One facility began making changes in advance of last September’s Supreme Court ruling, and is now considered a model green recycling facility in the region.
Leela Recycling Yard managing director Komal Sharma says his facility is one of the most advanced in India and will start hot cutting its first ship next week.
“We have begun the cold work of removing the pollutants from the ship,” he said. “We are doing it the green way.
“We will get the permission to begin the hot work, but will do it by the textbook. I think the first green recycling will take 20% more time, as my people need to change their mindset, but it will become quicker as they become used to the processes.”
Prior to an International Maritime Organization ship recycling meeting in France last month, an international delegation visited India to see how changes have been implemented in the region.
Chairman of the IMO working group on ship recycling Jens Koefoed said he was surprised with what they saw in Alang.
“I expected to see muddy dirty beaches. It was not like that at all. We saw no pollution and no rubbish. OK, they showed us the best parts and it is a huge place with over a 100 km of beach, but what we saw was impressive,” he said.
“They even had one of the best asbestos dumps I have ever seen.”
India’s Supreme Court has a lot of influence in the country and its ruling on recycling facilities has been seen by some experts as pushing the region into a position where it could be in a position to meet the requirements of the forthcoming convention.
Mr Sharma is fully confident that Leela’s new facilities will meet the strictest standards expected from international bodies such as the IMO, International Labour Organisation, International Standards Organisation and the European Union.
Mr Sharma describes the process of going green as a chicken and egg story.
“We did not do a detailed viability study for building a green recycling facility as we wanted to promote this to the resellers,” he said, explaining that it is difficult to break a vessel in an environmentally-sound way without getting an environmentally sound vessel in the first place. However, with pressure being placed on shipowners as well as the breakers, he decided to forge ahead with the changes in order to convince owners to send their ships to his facility.
Although not expecting to make money initially, he is confident of becoming profitable in the long run, and is looking to invest in a residential area for his workforce if he can get the land from the local authorities.
Other ship dismantling facilities in India are beginning to nofollow suit and could yet provide European and other shipowners with a viable option for green disposal of unwanted tonnage.