Alang glutted by ships, workers at risk

Published: Saturday 31 March 2007

there has been a sudden surge in ships arriving at Alang for dismantling since November 2006, says the Gujarat Maritime Board (gmb). The shipbreaking yard now faces more toxic hazards.

According to gmb, between November 2006 and February 2007, the shipbreaking yard has received 64 small- and medium-sized ships for dismantling, which is double the number of ships that docked between June and October 2006.

In January, as many as 24 ships docked at Alang, which is the highest number of ships that the port has received in a single month in the past two years. gmb officials and shipbreakers say the trend will continue in future.

The president of the Alang Ship Breakers' Association, Vishnu Gupta, attributes the recent surge to the International Maritime Organization's decision to replace single-hulled and single-bottomed tankers with double-hulled and double-bottomed ones. The move is a safeguard against oil spills. As a result, more ships are now becoming obsolete and coming to Alang for dismantling, says Gupta. "Moreover, due to the ongoing political instability in Bangladesh, many ships that would have otherwise preferred Bangladesh's Chittagong port, are arriving at Alang," says Hareshsinh Parmar, who operates two shipbreaking yards at Alang.

But this sudden influx of ships has highlighted safety concerns. Even Pravin Nagarsheth, former president of the shipbreakers' association, says that the infrastructure in the Alang yards is not good enough to deal with health and safety issues and that workers will be at risk. He adds that shipbreakers and the government must work together to make Alang a preferred destination.

The new development gives an added urgency to a report submitted in October by a high-level technical committee set up by the Supreme Court to examine working conditions at Alang. The Supreme Court will evaluate the report in March 2007.

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