International Labour Organisation (ILO) have stated that “Ship Breaking has grown into a major occupational and environmental health problem in the world” (Source - https://www.ilo.org/safework/areasofwork/hazardous-work/WCMS_110335/lang--en/index.htm). Ship Recycling is a process that involves breaking up of huge and old vessels to obtain recycled steel machinery, furniture and spare parts. This process is carried out in mainly in in the Indian sub-continent – Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Working at ship recycling yard could be dangerous job since you are dealing with a huge vessel there is higher risk of fatalities and injuries. However, ship recycling can be safer and sustainable when ship recycling yard as a whole along with workers follow safe practices.
The process of ship breaking is absolutely useful and important to the environment. After a ship reached its end of life of about 28 to 30 years, she starts to deteriorate and it is no more profitable for the ship owner to repair and maintain in the longer run. At this particular point, they sell off their ship to buyers who would take it for ship recycling during which they extract valuable materials like steel, iron, aluminium from recycling process. If we compare this process of ship recycling to sinking or abandonment method, then recycling is the most environmentally friendly and economical way of getting rid of old vessels.
Human and environmental impacts of ship recycling
When the ships reach at the end of their lives, undoubtedly, they could pose a serious threat human lives and to the environment if they are not responsibly recycled. In a report published by World Bank in 2010 where the bank had studied impact of ship recycling in Bangladesh and Pakistan, it said that during the period of 2010 to 2030, expected amount of hazardous materials likely to be processed / generated during the ship recycling processes carried out in Bangladesh and Pakistan would be as follows:
Table ES 3. Accumulated hazardous material amounts from ship breaking and recycling in Bangladesh and Pakistan, 2010-30
Hazardous material Unit Bangladesh Pakistan
Asbestos t 79,000 5,200
PCBs (mainly cables) t 240,000 16,000
ODS (mainly polyurethane foam) t 210,000 14,000
Paints (metals, tributyltin (TBT), and PCBs) t 69,200 4,550
Heavy metals t 678 45
Waste liquid organic m3 1,978,000 130,000
Miscellaneous (mainly sewage) m3 107,000 7,000
Waste liquids inorganic (acids) t 775 51
Reusable liquids organics t 675,000 44,200
It must be understood that with responsible ship recycling practices entire amount of hazardous wastes stated above can be easily removed, stored and handed over to authorised agencies who will dispose these hazardous wastes properly so that there is no environmental damage and safe for workers.
Studies have also shown that with a proper and responsible recycling of ships - pollution of the surrounding sea water, threat to marine life can be definitely avoided. Considering numerous benefits of ship recycling every step to avoid any environmental damage and ensuring safety of workers must be encouraged. And to ensure safe and environmentally sound ship recycling, IMO has issued guidelines on ship recycling and such safe and environmentally sound ship recycling is known as green ship recycling.