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Dirty and dangerous shipbreaking in Alang, India


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.

 The described unequal distribution of burdens and benefits, due to an international and national uneven distribution of power, has often led to ecological distribution conflicts. While ships were dismantled in Europe and Japan in the 70s, the introduction of stricter laws and regulations to protect workers and the environment prompted the shift of shipbreaking activities to South Asia where laws are poorly enforced. The shipbreaking practices in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been strongly criticized by local and international groups that demand decent working conditions and environmental justice. As end-of-life vessels contain large amounts of hazardous waste, these ships are governed by international waste laws such as the UN Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste. An amendment to the Basel Convention which has not yet entered into force at the international level, but is transposed to European Union law via the Waste Shipment Regulation, prohibits any export of hazardous waste from the EU to developing countries. A new EU Regulation on Ship Recycling only allows for ships flying the flag of an EU Member State to be recycled in facilities listed by the European Commission as compliant with European standards. Beach-breaking yards do not meet the requirements of the new EU law. Still, the majority of end-of-life vessels, including those owned by European countries, end up on the beaches of South Asia. This is mainly because what remains to be addressed are foreign (non EU) flagged ships. Foreign flagged ships accounted in 2008 for 67% of the world total, most of them registered in the so called states of convenience (or open registers). The top five registries (Panama, Liberia, Greece, Bahamas and Marshall Islands) together accounted for 49.3% of the world's DWT. For instance, over 80% of the ship dismantled in 2004 at Alang–Sosiya Shipbreaking Yard (India) used a flag of convenience. Flags of convenience, together with fiscal havens, shell companies and cash buyers, allow under-invoicing (resulting in evasion of import tax and money laundering) and facilitate ship owner's access to the shipbreaking market. The current European Commission regulation still does not fully address this key issue.

  Alang-Sosiya Shipbreaking Yard (ASSBY)  Alang-Sosiya yard (India) is the largest in the world by the number of vessels dismantled, while Chittagong is the largest by tonnage. The activity started in the 1980s and today is in full operation with about 200 plots, and a few hundred ships dismantled every year. The intensity of the activity varies significantly from time to time, and can be followed with an inverse proxy: the Baltic Dry Index. This is an index that provides an assessment of the price of moving the major raw materials by sea. The higher the BDI, the lower the number of ships broken (e.g. 2003-2008), and viceversa (e.g. 2009-2016).   In the late 1990s, ASSBY became the world’s largest shipbreaking yard. Success, together with an impressive industry aesthetics, brought attention from the media and criticism followed; environmental and labour groups, as well, had better structured their complains. The conflict developed at three different scales (International, National and Local) with environmentalists playing a major role, accompanied by trade unions and human rights groups. At the International level environmental NGOs, like Greenpeace and BAN (Basel Action Network), have carried out campaigns to raise public awareness in developed countries and lobbying for the implementation of regulations (notably the Basel Convention). In 2005 the Platform on Shipbreaking was created as an International Network coalition of environmental, human and labour rights organizations to challenge the global shipping industry.

 In India environmental NGOs (like Toxic Links and Corporate Accountability Desk) and independent activists (like Gopal Krishna) engaged in judicial activism. They keep fighting on the Civil Written Petition on Hazardous Waste Management filed in 1995 to the Supreme Court by 'Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resources policy'. At the local level the conflict has remained latent. Workers are extremely vulnerable because of their precarious social and economic condition so that they can be easily kept under pressure and domination. Villagers, including farmers and fishermen, have expressed oral complains to authorities, normally through the Sarpanches (Head of villages). The reasons why further actions have not been undertaken might be found in their marginalization and fear to face shipbreakers, often mafia-like entrepreneurs.

 The described unequal distribution of benefits and burdens has led to the rise of an ecological distribution conflict, expressed also as a valuation conflict. Different languages of valuation have been deployed by the different actors pointing out the existence of value pluralism. This therefore not only a conflict of interests, but also on values. Economic language has been refused by the villagers while environmentalists (International and National) have attempted to use it strategically. This is however the language often used by the Court and based on a trade off between development and environment. The Courts often do not recognize the incommensurability among the expressed values and give orders based on the idea that economic benefits can compensate the environmental degradation. Political power shows its ability to impose decision-procedure, standard of valuation and finally the decision.


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.

Between 2012 and 2014, around 1030 large commercial vessels were sent to India for breaking. Most of these ships were sold by European, Chinese, Japanese and Singaporean owners.

The EJO Shipbreaking Platform's work has been two-fold:

(1) at the national level, Indian Platform members have been litigating for the enforcement of existing laws that limit the import of toxic waste as well as guarantees the respect of workers rights.

(2) at the international and European level, the Platform has been campaigning for the enforcement and development of policies and laws that will hold the shipping industry accountable for the sustainable recycling of their end-of-life fleet.

It is currently very easy for ship owners to circumvent existing waste laws. In addition to the pollution cased by substandard shipbreaking practices to coastal areas, and workers', as well as local communities' exposure to hazardous materials , dangerous working conditions at the shipbreaking yards result in fatal accidents and severe injuries.

To halt illegal imports and scrapping of ships to India Indian activists have filed several cases in the Supreme Court - the import of ships such as King Frederik, the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau, Blue Lady and Exxon Valdez were brought to the Court. These cases prompted the Courts to develop several new codes on ship recycling.

To halt exports of ships to beaching yards in India, the Platform has worked to influence legislative development at the international and European level. Naming and shaming especially European companies that sell their toxic ships to Alang the Platform has also attempted to influence ship owners to adopt policies on sustainable ship recycling. Most recently Japanese MOL saw its car carrier the Global Spirit arrested in the port of Amsterdam for attempting to illegaly export the vessel for scrap to India.

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)

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

Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974

Hazardous Materials and Wastes Rules 2002

GMB Rules on Shipbreaking 2006

The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal

Regulation (EU) No 1257/2013 on ship recycling

IMO Guidelines on Ship Recycling

Safety and health in shipbreaking: ILO Guidelines for Asian countries and Turkey

Environment (Protection) Act 1986

Petroleum Act 1934

Customs Act 1962

Indian Technical Committee Inspection Report on the Blue Lady, 2006

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

IMF, Status of Shipbreaking Workers in India - A Survey, 2006

National Institute of Occupational Health, Annual Report, 2006-2007

EU-funded research produced by WWF India, Ship dismantling - A status report from South Asia, 2008

Sahu Geetanjoy, Workers of Alang-Sosiya - A Survey of Working Conditions in a Ship-Breaking Yard, 1983-2013

Federico Demaria, Shipbreaking at Alang–Sosiya (India): An ecological distribution conflict, 2010

Deccan Chronicle, Stop memo to ship breaking unit

Recycling International, Indian sub-continent tops shipbreaking league

Akash Vashishtha, Ship-breaking yards pollute marine waters

The Maritime Executive, Report Slams Alang Shipbreaking Yards

Eric Haun, Report: Dire Conditions in Indian Shipbreaking Yards

Avinash Nair, Migrant labourer dead, another injured at Alang ship-breaking yard

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video: The Wire Nest…life In Mumbai’s Shipbreaking Yards

Video: MPTDGEU - Into the Graveyard

Meta information

Contributor:NGO Shipbreaking Platform - Email: [email protected] with Federico Demaria
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1722



Alang Sosiya Shipbreaking Yard