Bengaluru: Four of the 167 ship recycling yards located on the coast of Alang-Sosiya in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district, the world’s largest stretch of ship-breaking beaches, have won compliance status with a global regime that seeks to ensure that redundant ships are disposed of safely and in an environmentally sound manner.
RL Kalthia Ship Breaking Pvt. Ltd, Priya Blue Industries Pvt. Ltd, Leela Ship Recycling Pvt. Ltd and Shree Ram Group have been issued compliance status, marking the first time that such recognition has been given to ship breakers in South Asia.
It goes a long way in dispelling doubts about the beaching method of breaking ships practised along a 10-km stretch of Alang-Sosiya, often subject to criticism for its lax safety and health aspects, said experts.
Under the beaching method, ships are first grounded and then dismantled, posing hazards to human beings and the environment.
The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2009. It is, however, yet to come into force because it has not been ratified by 15 states, representing 40% of world merchant shipping by gross tonnage (capacity) and a maximum annual ship recycling volume not less than 3% of the combined tonnage of the states.
While the IMO convention does not prohibit the dismantling of old ships by the beaching method, a separate ship recycling regulation published by the European Union in 2013 seeks to ban this method of dismantling ships practised in Alang-Sosiya.
“This (compliance) really does prove beyond doubt that not all beaching is bad,” says Anil Sharma, the founder and chief executive officer of GMS, the world’s largest cash buyer of ships for dismantling.
In the ship recycling industry, a “cash buyer” is a trader who purchases a ship for “cash” from the owners and delivers it to a ship recycling yard (ship recyclers).
Kalthia, Priya Blue, Leela and Shree Ram carried out substantial improvements to their facilities to ensure safer and greener ship recycling as well as developed the ship recycling facility plans (SRFPs) required for a competent authority’s certification, according to the Hong Kong International Convention.
“The EU ship recycling regulation, however, is a big concern for us,” said Chintan Kalthia, managing director at RL Kalthia Shipbreaking.
“EU regulations don’t want beaching. The EU is also not sure how they want to go ahead,” said Gaurav Mehta, managing director at Priya Blue Industries, which runs the biggest of the four recycling yards that are compliant with the IMO convention.
Alang has attracted criticism globally because of the frequent mishaps reported at many of the recycling facilities that dot the coast in Bhavnagar district.
Some 470 workers have died in accidents in Alang since it started demolition in 1983, according to Mumbai-based The Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
But, the real number could be much higher since deaths are under-reported. Since 1983, over 400 fires have broken out and since 2001, 141 fatal accidents and 301 non-fatal ones have taken place. The ship-breaking industry in Alang-Sosiya employs close to 50,000 people, both directly and indirectly.
The Alang ship-breaking yards have dismantled more than 6,600 vessels till 2015 and produce 4.5 million tonnes of re-rollable steel a year.
The EU ship recycling regulation entered into force at the end of 2013, and its requirements will be phased-in between 31 December 2015 and 31 December 2020.
A key aspect of the EU regime is the development of a list of ship recycling facilities that have demonstrated compliance with the EU regulation.
Once the list of approved ship recycling facilities is compiled by the European Commission by 31 December 2016, ships flying the flag of a EU member state will only be sold for recycling to facilities that are included in the list.
“The shipping industry accepts its responsibility to promote safe and environmentally sustainable disposal of ships in the world’s ship recycling yards, the majority of which are located in developing countries,” said Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general of London-based International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), a global trade body that represents more than 80% of the world’s merchant fleet.
In January, ICS issued transitional measures for shipowners selling ships for recycling’ to help comply with the IMO’s Hong Kong convention ahead of its entry into force and the separate EU regulations that has already taken effect.
“Adherence to these transitional measures should be seen as a sign of good faith prior to the entry into force of the IMO regime. But they will also help companies avoid falling foul of the separate EU ship recycling regime which started to take effect on 31 December,” Hinchliffe said.
Indian ship recycling facilities are not able to comply with EU regulations because they do not accept the beaching method of ship recycling, said Kalthia.
“We are not clear what exactly EU wants and whatever their final FAQs ask and demand from yards, I’ll have to check and verify the gaps in my facility. If there are gaps, I’ll work to fill those gaps, if possible, within the method I’m using for ship recycling in India (read beaching),” said Kalthia.