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Dirty and dangerous shipbreaking in Alang, India

Shipbreaking is the process of dismantling an obsolete vessel’s structure for scrapping. Alang-Sosiya has been the largest yard in the world.


Shipbreaking is the process of dismantling an obsolete vessel’s structure for scrapping or disposal. Ocean-going ships, both mainly owned and used for their trade by industrial countries, are demolished, together with their toxic materials, in poorer countries. Each year, around 1000 large ocean ships reach the end of their service life and are broken down to recover steel and other materials. Yet only a fraction is handled in a safe, sustainable manner. More than two-thirds of all end-of-life ships are simply run ashore on tidal beaches in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan where unscrupulous shipbreaking companies exploit minimal enforcement of environmental and safety rules to maximize profits (in connivance with shipping companies). Likewise, even though clean and safe alternatives are available elsewhere, the vast majority of ship owners, most of which are based in the EU, Japan and China, are unwilling to internalize the costs of safe and environmentally sound ship recycling and circumvent existing laws to maximize their profits. On the beaches of South Asia, poor migrant workers are deployed by tens of thousands to break down large ships manually, which are often full of toxics such as asbestos, lead, ozone depleting substances, PCBs and heavy metals. Little care is given to worker safety or protection of the environment. Ship owners and ship breakers obtain large profit avoiding decontamination, dumping environmental costs to workers, local farmers and fishermen. They practice cost-shifting. The toxics sicken the workers and ravage coastal ecosystems. The muddy sand and shifting grounds of tidal beaches cannot support adequate heavy lifting equipment or rapid emergency response, therefore accidents maim or kill countless of workers each year. The statistics are alarming. In Bangladesh, children count for 25% of the workforce. There and elsewhere, the total death toll runs into the thousands. Also, ten thousands of protected mangrove trees, essential to the ecosystem’s health and to the protection from cyclones and floods, are being cut to make way for ships. This and the accompanying poisons from shipbreaking have killed or devastated dozens of aquatic species, destroying also the livelihoods of surrounding fishing communities.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Dirty and dangerous shipbreaking in Alang, India
State or province:Gujarat
Location of conflict:Alang
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Wetlands and coastal zone management
Ship-breaking yards
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Specific commodities:Asbestos
Industrial waste
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Alang beaching area has more than 160 plots.

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Project area:20,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:35,000 (workers and some of their families), local fishermen (in partiular when new shipbreaking yards are set up)
Start of the conflict:1995
Company names or state enterprises:Ship Recycling Industries Association India (SRIA) from India
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Shipping, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Gujarat Maritime Board, Gujarat Pollution Control Board
International and Finance InstitutionsInternational Maritime Organization (IMO)
International Labour Organization (ILO) from Switzerland
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
The World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:NGO Shipbreaking Platform, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), The Corporate Accountability Desk – The Other Media, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), Toxics Link, ISCOS - CISL, Toxic Watch Alliance.
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Industrial workers
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
Potential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Infectious diseases
Other Health impactsThe statistics are alarming. In 2014, at least 10 workers have lost their lives at the Alang shipbreaking site, either crushed to death by falling steel plates, by explosions, fires or the release of toxic gases. Another 14 workers were reported seriously injured. There are however no official figures. Workers do not receive regular health check-ups, thus occupational diseases cannot be detected. There are no figures about long-term health impacts, such as cancer or asbestosis.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood
Other socio-economic impactsMost of the workers are migrant workers from other Indian States, mainly Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. The workers do not speak the local language, they are not correctly registered as provided by national law and lack trade union representation and other support from local leaders due to their migrant worker status.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
Some court cases have been won and other lost; the overall court case is ongoing.
Proposal and development of alternatives:The NGO Shipbreaking Platform and its members call on the governments in ship-owning countries (in particular: the EU and its Member States, Japan, China, Singapore, and the US) to prohibit the export of end-of-life vessels to South Asian shipbreaking countries as long as:
- end-of-life vessels contain significant amounts of hazardous waste;
- the shipbreaking countries cannot prove that all hazardous waste is removed, store, treated, disposed or destructed in a fully clean and safe way;
- working and living conditions of shipbreaking workers remain inadequate;
- shipbreaking does not take place in modern ship recycling facilities off the beach with minimum technical and infrastructural requirements allowing for the containment of pollutions and workers’ health and safety.
The NGO Shipbreaking Platform and its members call on ship owner, to only sell the end-of-life vessels to modern ship recycling facilities off the beach. In mid-2015, the European Commission will publish a list of clean and safe ship recycling yards, which responsible ship owners can use.
The NGO Shipbreaking Platform its member organisations in Bangladesh recommend the following actions to the Government of India, the shipbreaking industry as well as the relevant international organisations:
- The Government needs to close down all shipbreaking yards which do not operate in full accordance with the Supreme Court rulings and exisiting rules and regulations.
- The Government must ensure that yard owners are held responsible for severe injures and deaths resulting from a lack of adequate infrastructe, equipment, oversight or training. So far, no yard owner has been held responsible for malpractice or negligence.
- The Government together with the relevant local authorities should develop and implement a «Green Ship Recycling Strategy», that is a cross-departmental policy to allow for the much needed change towards clean and safe ship recycling off the beach and compliant with international and domestic law, based on guidance offered by the Basel Convention Secretariat, the ILO and the IMO.
- The Government should seek advice from the international institutions, in particular the Basel Convention Secretariat, the ILO and the IMO, and build partnerships to finance the needed investments in infrastructure to develop modern ship recycling facilities off the beach.
- The «Green Ship Recycling Strategy» should provide a roadmap for investments in the technical infrastructure of the shipbreaking yards to allow for the transition towards safer methods off the beach (e.g. impermeable floors and drainage system, heavy lifting equipment, electricity and water supply).
- The Government should cooperate with the other shipbreaking countries in South Asia – Bangladesh and Pakistan – in a joint effort to exchange experience and alter shipbreaking practices so that competitiveness is not based on the lowest standards, but that instead a ‘level playing field’ is negotiated between shipbreaking countries.
- Taking into account already existing legal provisions, the Supreme Court rulings and obligations under international law, the Government needs to develop the sector-specific shipbreaking rules. The regulation needs to accommodate the overlaps in responsibilities between different government agencies at the national and local level and needs to clearly define the competent authorities’ roles.
- The new regulation should be based on a comprehensive review of existing legislation and a gap analysis, and should allow for the implementation of international obligations under the Basel Convention (in particular Prior Informed Consent, PIC, and Environmentally Sound Management, ESM, of hazardous wastes) as well as the future Hong Kong Convention.
- The new regulation needs to set out an effective facility inspection regime to ensure that shipbreaking only occurs in accordance with the regulation’s requirements.
- With regards to hazardous waste management, the “Green Ship Recycling Strategy” needs to include a solution for the destruction of PCBS (which is not yet possible in India), and a system to track hazardous waste to avoid illegal dumping or the repartition of hazardous materials into the market, the establishment of a testing laboratory with portable equipment, regular monitoring of the presence of contaminants in soil, water, sediments and air.
- There is an immediate need for training, awareness-raising and capacity building for workers to ensure safe operations. The government should seek the assistance of the Basel Convention Secretariat and ILO for further guidance on materials and the organisation of the training. A two day training is not sufficient for workers to work safely in a hazardous industry. Workers needs to be handed out certificates and training efforts needs to be documented.
- With regards to workers’ rights, health and safety and living conditions, and irrespective of trade union membership, the authorities need to accommodate for: the immediate implementation of the applicable laws relative to labour rights, the immediate improvement of workers’ living conditions including drinking water and proper sanitation, the introduction of occupational health and safety procedures, the enforcement of the use of adequate PPE, a health care system for the workers including rapid access to a hospital, the availability of a medical insurance for workers, an adequate system for emergency response, the documentation of casualties, injuries, damages and occupational diseases and effective record-keeping, the provision of contracts or letter of appointments for workers and their automatic registration for social benefits.
- With regards to the dangers of asbestos, the sector-specific regulation needs to include strict requirements regarding OHS standards during removal, storage and disposal of asbestos to make sure that workers are not harmed and that elements containing asbestos cannot be re-sold. There is a need for regular medical check-ups. It is advisable to introduce a new draft law on asbestos safety.
- The responsible authorities need to monitor the implementation of laws and have enforcement mechanisms in place. This includes a training programme tailored for the designated officials including the judiciary. Compliance needs to be monitored especially with regards to: workers’ registration for social benefits, migrant workers’ registration, provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), application of environmental, health and safety procedures, use of obligatory on-site pollution control and safety gadgets, periodic monitoring of maintenance and improvements of on-site equipment, provision of sufficient, improved and satisfactory on-site health care system, adequate training status of workers and awareness of hazards, maintenance of hazardous waste inventory and disposal.
- The Government should ratify the Basel Ban Amendment, thus prohibit the import of hazardous waste, and the Hong Kong Convention and seek early compliance with the provisions under the latter. Moreover, the Government should enforce all the provisions of the Basel Convention.
- The Government should support a study to define the level and distribution of contamination in and around the shipbreaking yards, and develop an inventory of hazardous wastes (e.g. for the unmarked asbestos dumping grounds). It should identify “hot spots” that need to be cleaned up. It can seek the international organisations’ expertise and support for this task. The SBC (UNEP) has started a survey in that sense in Pakistan and Bangladesh and the Government should make sure they cooperate and access the information gathered.
- The Government needs to promote unbiased research on the working conditions and the environmental impact of shipbreaking. They need to allow for transparency and enhance civil society involvement. Moreover, they should embrace the active participation of trade unions and promote their independent and democratic structures.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite significant decisions towards environmental and social protection have been taken by both the Supreme Court and legislative organs, the Indian ship breaking industry remains a hazardous industry for both workers and the environment. The Supreme Court orders are not implemented fully and existing rules and regulations are not strictly enforced by the relevant authorities. Indian media has reported about a corrupted system in which environmantal and OHS certificates can be bought. Due to the lack of adequate infrastructure and equipment as well as deficient law enforcement, proper waste handling procedures are not always followed and the waste streams are not documented. For instance, there is no PCB destruction plant available. So far, the sector can neither prevent pollution and the distribution of hazardous materials into the local market nor mitigate the risks of accidents and occupational diseases.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Factories Act 1949

Explosives Rules 1983

Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals and Chemical Accidents Rules 1989

Environment (Siting for Industrial Projects) Act 1999

Petroleum Rules 2002

Supreme Court of India - Research Foundation for Science v. Union of India, WP 657/1995 (2012)
[click to view]

Supreme Court of India - Research Foundation for Science v. Union of India, WP 657/1995 (2003)
[click to view]

Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974
[click to view]

Hazardous Materials and Wastes Rules 2002
[click to view]

GMB Rules on Shipbreaking 2006
[click to view]

The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships
[click to view]

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal
[click to view]

Regulation (EU) No 1257/2013 on ship recycling
[click to view]

IMO Guidelines on Ship Recycling
[click to view]

Safety and health in shipbreaking: ILO Guidelines for Asian countries and Turkey
[click to view]

Environment (Protection) Act 1986
[click to view]

Petroleum Act 1934

Customs Act 1962

Indian Technical Committee Inspection Report on the Blue Lady, 2006
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Okechukwu Ibeanu, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, 2010
[click to view]

IMF, Status of Shipbreaking Workers in India - A Survey, 2006
[click to view]

National Institute of Occupational Health, Annual Report, 2006-2007
[click to view]

EU-funded research produced by WWF India, Ship dismantling - A status report from South Asia, 2008
[click to view]

Sahu Geetanjoy, Workers of Alang-Sosiya - A Survey of Working Conditions in a Ship-Breaking Yard, 1983-2013
[click to view]

Federico Demaria, Shipbreaking at Alang–Sosiya (India): An ecological distribution conflict, 2010
[click to view]

Deccan Chronicle, Stop memo to ship breaking unit
[click to view]

Recycling International, Indian sub-continent tops shipbreaking league
[click to view]

Akash Vashishtha, Ship-breaking yards pollute marine waters
[click to view]

The Maritime Executive, Report Slams Alang Shipbreaking Yards
[click to view]

Eric Haun, Report: Dire Conditions in Indian Shipbreaking Yards
[click to view]

Avinash Nair, Migrant labourer dead, another injured at Alang ship-breaking yard
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video: The Wire Nest…life In Mumbai’s Shipbreaking Yards
[click to view]

Video: MPTDGEU - Into the Graveyard
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:NGO Shipbreaking Platform - Email: [email protected] with Federico Demaria
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1722
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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