New Delhi: Violating the Supreme Court’s September directive asking ships arriving in India to be scrapped to beach only after they meet a certain condition, 53 of them have beached at Gujarat’s Alang ship-breaking yard without doing so because the firms involved claim there is no clarity as to who will certify that they have met this condition.
The Ship Recycling Industries Association (SRIA), an industry lobby group for ship recyclers, admitted this in an application to the court, which is hearing an ongoing litigation on hazardous waste.
Ships have a certain lifespan after which their owners sell them as scrap. Ships need to be broken at ship-breaking yards such as the one at Alang before metal can be extracted from them. However, some of the ships contain gases and can explode even as workers use cutters to strip them of metal. Ships that have to be broken have to beach, or run themselves onto a beach from water, because it is easier to break them on land.
In September, the Supreme Court passed an order that said ships would be given permission to beach only after they obtain a certificate saying that they were “gas free for hot work”—much of the cutting is done using oxyacetylene cutters and these and gas do not go well together.
Since that order, dated 6 September, no ship has been given permission to beach by the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB), a state government body that regulates shipping and ship-breaking in the region. Nor has any ship obtained the requisite certificate. Ship-breakers are required to obtain the certificate from the authority and Responsibilities of Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO), which was formerly known as the department of explosives.
However, 53 ships have beached at Alang since. An official at GMB, who did not wish to be identified, said there was little the board could do to prevent ships from beaching illegally.
SRIA, however, insists that the beaching is not illegal. “There is confusion as to which agency we are supposed to get the certificate from. When we go to PESO, they say that ‘we are not the agency’. Though we have got ‘gas free’ certificates from the directorate of safety and health, it is not being accepted by the GMB,” said Nikhil Gupta, joint secretary, SRIA.
PESO officials declined comment on the matter.
In a separate clarification application submitted to the Supreme Court by PESO in October 2007, the authority said only petroleum tankers or ships carrying oil as cargo should be required to get such certificates.
“This is very misleading. There is not much difference between petroleum and non- petroleum ships as far as hazards to workers are concerned,” said Gopal Krishna, coordinator, Indian Platform on Shipbreaking, an environmental activist group. In 2006, ships beached at Alang were besieged by various explosions.
In its last petition, SRIA had asked for this mandatory certification to be scrapped and that only Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) officials be required to board ships (to inspect them) and that too, only in the case of nuclear-powered vessels.
SRIA also claims that the 53 ships are just “lying there”, and that no work has been done on them. Mint could not immediately verify if no breaking work was happening on these ships. “We have 53 ships right now, which have paid 16% excise and 5% customs duty and they are just lying there. If this continues, then no owner will send their ships to India for recycling,” said Gupta. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has asked the inter-ministerial committee, which includes officials from the CPCB, GMB, ministries of steel, labour, shipping, petroleum and environment and forests, activist groups and ship-breakers to submit a status report in eight weeks, after which the next hearing will be held.