CLEAN AND GREEN ALANG
Business Today|May 30, 2021
Notorious for environmental pollution and accidental death of workers in the yards till a decade ago, Alang in Gujarat is currently the greenest and safest ship-breaking hub globally. So, what changed?
P.B. JAYAKUMAR
The sleepy coastal village of Alang, about 50 kilometres from Bhavnagar in Gujarat, also known as the largest ship-recycling hub in the world, had a bad reputation until a decade ago. Reports highlighted horror stories about its poor infrastructure, environmental pollution from hazardous waste such as asbestos, engine oil tainting sandy shores and the Arabian Sea, accidents and death of unskilled labourers, etc. But Alang now has a new reputation — it is the greenest and safest ship-breaking hub, dismantling 30-35 per cent of ships recycled a year, globally.

The near-four-decade-old Alang of today is the result of concerted efforts — court interventions, government initiatives and above all, committed efforts of ship breakers to upgrade to international standards to win business.

How It Was Earlier

Alang-Sosiya Ship Recycling Yard was developed by the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) in 1982, on the shores of a 12-kilometre long stretch. The area was suitable for the “beaching method” of ship breaking (ships hauled to shores during high tide and then scrapped). During high tides, water level rises up to 33 feet (normal high tides in Indian coasts are only up to 14-15 feet), which makes it easier to haul ships to the shore. The first vessel, MV Kota Tenjong, was beached at Alang in February 1983, and by early 90s, over 100 ships were scrapped in a year. By 2000-2005, Alang was regularly scrapping over 300 ships a year. Soon, many scrap merchants became ship recyclers and their reluctance to invest and lack of knowledge regarding international ship-breaking methods and standards became an issue.

During 2000-2005, around 15-20 accidental deaths happened every year, drawing media attention. Environment protection groups, including Greenpeace, campaigned against dumping of toxic materials like asbestos, radiation-causing toxic waste, polyurethane (a plastic material that exists in various forms and used in applications such as insulation of refrigerators and freezers) and used furnace oil polluting beaches. The Supreme Court started monitoring and directed a high-power committee to study all aspects of ship recycling. The apex court guidelines on sustainable ship recycling suggested detailed procedures to be followed during import of obsolete ships. These included consent from the maritime board after inspecting for hazardous waste and radioactive substances, decontamination of ships before hauling to breaking yards and submitting a complete inventory of hazardous and non-hazardous waste on board. The court also directed the GMB and the state pollution control board to strictly comply with the “Prevention of Fire and Accidents for Safety and Welfare of Workers and Protection of Environment during Ship-breaking Activities Regulations 2000”.

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