Regulation Ship Recycling

Published on February 21st, 2017

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Will Alang Cross the Bridge to Sustainable Ship Recycling?

The world’s largest stretch of ship breaking beaches located at Alang in India’s north western state of Gujarat, is anxiously awaiting its moment of truth in its transformation into a sustainable ship recycling spot.

Green groups are piling pressure to block a handful of ship recyclers in Alang, India who have upgraded their facilities to comply with an impending global rule on safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships, from gaining an entry into a list to be approved by the European Union based on its own recycling regulations, where EU-flagged vessels can be recycled.

The relentless onslaught by industry watchdogs against upgraded Alang yards is scaring away large shipping companies from considering the Indian facilities for their green recycling needs, putting spokes in Alang’s bid to emerge as a sustainable recycling place and erase its reputation for unsafe and unsound breaking practices.

At the same time, some of these big shipping lines are being accused of adopting double standards. Despite public statements that they would only recycle their ships at green yards in China and Turkey, most of their older ships end up in bad facilities, even in Alang, because they have no control over the actions of cash buyers to whom such ships are sold for dismantling.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), are against the beaching method of ship recycling practiced in Alang. “They want beaching to be banned; they are worried that the EU may approve a few yards in Alang, that’s why they are trying hard to give as much bad name as possible to Alang by targeting the top names in the recycling industry, failing to recognize the significant improvements that have been taking place in the recent years in yard infrastructure and in the training of workers under the Hong Kong International Convention (HKC) guidelines for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships” says Dr Anand Hiremath of GMS Inc., the world’s largest buyer of ships and offshore structures for recycling.

There are many ship owners who are keen on doing green recycling and who are encouraged to send their ships to yard facilities in Alang that implement responsible ship recycling as per the HKC guidelines and have already acquired a statement of compliance with HKC, following in the footsteps of Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container shipping company, who last year placed faith by recycling two if its older ships at a yard in Alang, with four more vessels heading in that direction.

Ship Recycling

“But, they are genuinely afraid of coming to Alang,” says says Dr Hiremath, who did his doctoral thesis on the “Development of integrated risk assessment framework for best practices in ship recycling” with the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, and is stationed in Bhavnagar, a few kilometres away from Alang.

EU officials are expected in Alang soon to assess first hand, whether five out of the 24 sustainable recycling yards that have already been certified for compliance with the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Hong Kong Convention (HKC) and who had previously applied for inclusion in the EU list of approved facilities, deserve a place or not. These five yards are: R L Kalthia Ship Breaking Pvt. Ltd, Priya Blue Industries Pvt. Ltd, Leela Ship Recycling Pvt. Ltd, Shree Ram Group and Shubh Arya Steel Pvt. Ltd.

In addition to the 24 HKC certified yards, another 28 yards are currently being audited by global classification societies in order to become HKC-compliant.

The EU has already approved a first list of green yards – all located in Europe – that conforms to its rules. The second list will include facilities located outside Europe.

While the IMO convention does not prohibit the dismantling of old ships via the beaching method, the separate ship-recycling regulation published by the EU in 2013, seeks to ban this method of recycling practiced in Alang, home to the largest ship recycling region in the world, where 132 yards operate along a 10-km long waterfront.

Under the beaching method, a ship is taken ashore to land or grounded deliberately in shallow water, either on its own power or under tow and then dismantled, a practice criticized for being unsafe to environment and workers.
Including the upgraded Alang yards in the EU approved list, could settle the long-standing debate on the beaching method of ship demolition, something that environmental groups are opposing. But, a rejection would hold serious repercussions for Alang as well as the Hong Kong Convention that was adopted in 2009 and is expected to reach the status of ratification soon.

To enter into force, HKC require ratification 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.

This year will see decisions made that have the potential to drastically shape the future of sustainable recycling in Alang, says GMS.

“It is possible that these yards may be excluded (from the list) solely because of their use of the beaching method in the dismantling of ships,” Dr. Hiremath noted. If the EU decides not to include Alang’s HKC-compliant yards, it would remove the international pressure that progressive EU-flagged ship owners currently exert in support of the HKC, which has been gaining real traction in India. However, if they do include Alang yards, this will be a welcome boost in support of the improvements and achievements that have already been made and are on-going in Alang, particularly on the improvement of environmental sustainability and making the work place safer and healthier”, Dr Hiremath adds.

But, environmental groups who are opposed to the beaching method, are still not convinced about the improvements at Alang. In fact, they are stepping up their tirade against Alang yards, closing their eyes and denying any support to the local community or the local authorities’ efforts for the development of the industry.

At a recycling event in London a few days ago, one of these groups released a picture of Alang wherein two blocks cut from the container ship ‘Maersk Wyoming’ at the Shree Ram yard, are shown lying in the inter tidal zone.

Blocks cut off from ships can fall in the inter tidal zone, according to the HKC. ” As soon as they hit the sand, they are to be picked-up and placed on the impermeable floor”, says Hiremath. But, this process is not accepted by the environmental groups.

Several Green recyclers have installed bigger cranes at inter-tidal zone. When blocks – with the exception of stern and bow – fall inside the vessel, the huge crane lifts and puts them on the yard’s impermeable floor, on the shore. Recyclers say that the cranes can even lift the bow blocks right onto the impermeable floor on the shore without hitting the sand. They are looking at whether that’s possible with the ships’ stern also.

“In the picture that was shown, Dr. Hiremath says, “the blocks are completely clean, there is no oil on the block, there is no glass wool, no asbestos… It’s a clean block. So, by simply showing a picture of two blocks that have fallen in the inter tidal zone, you cannot conclude that Maersk or Shree Ram are doing a wrong thing. How you interpret each picture is rather subjective. They showed the picture to say how Maersk is not complying with its own recycling standards, which doesn’t really make any sense”.

“They were showing these pictures, trying to say that something wrong was being done. Because of this, other owners become a bit sceptical, though they shouldn’t, since all recycling activity for these specific vessels takes place at HKC- compliant yard meeting the ship owner’s recycling standards”, says Dr. Hiremath who was present at the London event.

At the London event, the same yard that received the negative comments, showed pictures on how it has changed its working practices by extending its concrete impermeable floor in the yard so that blocks can be placed on it. All workers were also provided with high standard dust filters. The yard management have also expressed their intent to install heavy cranes at the inter-tidal zones in the coming days.

The NGO’s strategy appears to be to create a scare ahead of the finalization of the second list of EU-approved yards, which is of critical importance to Alang.

By targeting one of the largest shipping companies and the top recycling yards in Alang, NGO’s are only trying to justify their salaries covered by the EU taxpayers’ money or subsidies; they are not really interested in entering a constructive dialogue with all the stakeholders involved, says Dr Hiremath. “This is only a game of NGOs to prevent stakeholders from investing in the progress of the ship recycling industry and the improvements in Alang”.
The NGOs have made it very clear that they don’t wish the Indian yards to be included in the EU approved list.
Big ship owners who are working with yards in China and Turkey, looks wary of NGOs. They are worried and afraid of press headline risk and its impact on their businesses despite being aware of the fact that the large shipping companies who do choose Alang for the recycling of their vessels, have adopted high corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards.

Maersk, on its part, is very confident, which is reflected in its decision to recycle four more vessels in Alang, the main reason being that the firm is convinced that it is doing the right thing and their own officers are stationed in the yard, constantly monitoring the demolition activity.

The HKC compliant yards say they are competent to do green recycling in India.

Many ship owners are working on their own responsible ship recycling standards (RSRS) ahead of sending their ships to Alang. For instance, in December 2016, Japan’s K Line sent a team to audit around 20 HKC compliant facilities in Alang from which they approved four plots where they will send their ships. “Owners are coming to do their own surveys and assessments, which demonstrates the serious approach that ship owners are now taking,” says Dr Hiremath.

An industry expert, however, said that ”Alang will never become a sustainable recycling spot with just one ship owner (Maersk) committed to send vessels for scrapping according to the highest quality standards”.

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