Labour concerns over India’s bid to double shipbreaking by 2024

Indian shipbreakers work at the Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yard on 4 March 2013. Credit: SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Image

The Indian shipping ministry is planning to ratify the Hong Kong International Convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships through its local laws in a move to double its ship-recycling capabilities by 2024.

It is hoped that this will bring India’s ship recycling to about nine million gross tonnage (mngt), from its estimated five mngt in 2018, by attracting ships from developed countries to Indian shipbreaking yards. However, concerns have been raised over the country’s ability to deal with labour rights and poor working conditions if ship recycling rises so drastically.

The Hong Kong Convention, which was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2009, aims to recycle ships at the end of their operational lives without risk to the environment or the health and safety of workers. India is already a leader in the shipbreaking market, with nearly a 25% share of global ship recycling. Much of this comes from the Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yard in Gujarat, which is regulated by the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB).

In response to documentation of labour and environmental abuses by Greenpeace in 1998 and work by NGO Shipbreaking Platform, the GMB set up the Ship Recycling Code in 2013 to offer basic training to workers and a waste reception facility. Since then, 66 out of a total of 154 yards in Alang-Sosiya have received statements of compliance (SoC) with the Hong Kong Convention.

However, as NGO Shipbreaking Platform has documented, even with these SoCs, the conditions at the Alang-Sosiya yards remain dangerous and exploitative. There remain concerns about labour rights, downstream waste management, a lack of proper medical facilities, environmental concerns with the beaching method, and the reselling of asbestos-contaminated materials, none of which are seen as in conflict with the adoption of the Hong Kong Convention.

Speaking with Safety at Sea, Nicola Mulinaris of NGO Shipbreaking Platform noted that the Hong Kong Convention remains inadequate to deal with the issues in South Asian shipyards and is being used to rubber-stamp current conditions with few changes. “It’s especially telling that the cash buyers that have built their entire business model on scrapping ships in Alang-Sosiya, Chattogram, and Gadani are the most ardent promoters of the Hong Kong Convention. Faced with the new EU Ship Recycling Regulation and the higher standards it sets, shipowners and cash buyers are ramping up efforts to get the Hong Kong Convention ratified,” he said. He expressed the belief that this is an attempt to “greenwash” dirty and dangerous practices.

Mulinaris pointed out that the Indian shipbreaking industry’s attempts to attract more reputable clients to its shipbreaking yards overlooks the fact that many of the vessels currently being recycled already come from these countries via flags of convenience or cash buyers. “If India was serious about developing a clean and safe ship recycling, it would shift all activities towards proper industrial platforms located off the beach and would start enforcing existing laws aimed at protecting both workers and the environment,” he said.

Look for a more in-depth article covering India’s potential plans to adopt the Hong Kong Convention in the January 2020 print edition of Safety at Sea.