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Aged ships a toxic export

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In Alang, India, for instance, ships are often driven onto the beach, where workers with minimal personal protection cut them up with torches, spilling toxins into sea and air, maritime experts say. With fewer environmental and labor requirements, ship recycling in places like Alang can be highly profitable, but highly dangerous for workers, the EC report on ship recycling found.

The official tally of people killed at Alang from scrap-yard accidents in 2003-04 was 26; the unofficial total was 103, the EC report said. (There have apparently been improvements among some of India's ship-­breaking companies, including moves toward safety certification, the EC report acknowledges.)

"The impact these ships will have on the environment and workers is horrible to contemplate," says Jim Puckett, coordinator of the Basel Action Network, an environmental group that spotlighted the SS Oceanic for possibly carrying PCBs.

By contrast, ship-recycling practices in the US have improved and are now among the best in the world, the EU study found. After the Baltimore Sun won a Pulitzer Prize for its 1997 reporting that the US was sending its old warships to India for scrapping under horrendous working conditions, Congress halted that practice and mandated US-only recycling. Now government-owned vessels overseen by MARAD are scrapped at seven certified US ship-recycling yards.

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