Ship-breaking is very ecologically unfriendly activity and there are only three countries in the world providing places for ship scrapping: Turkey, India and Bangladesh. Developed world sends its ships to die in the developing world, easy. When the lifespan of the ship reaches 25-30 years it is sent to ship-breaking port where it’s dismantled till the last bolt and screw-nut.
The view of ship crematoria in the open air is very oppressive. Once huge beautiful cruise ships, mighty wagons, tankers, bulk carriers and container ships, now they are moored in the shoreline and slowly rusting away waiting for their turn to be dismantled. Flags are down, facing is dotted with clams, some parts are crumpled and the water nearby is full of fuel and oil.
Alang is situated in the north of the western Indian state Gujarat, 50 km from Bhavnagar city. Alang has a very handy natural tidal system which is easily monitored and predicted. During the water rise ships are pulled to the shore and during the low tide the water retreats for 16-18 meters and the vessel appears to be basically on the ground with an easy access to it. The surrounding water smells an acid stench. It probably contains all elements from Mendeleev’s periodic system and various carcinogenes. To reach the ship a worker needs to take off his robe and then bare feet, waiste-deep in the stinking mire he wanders to the rope-ladder thrown down from the ship.
Graveyard of ships. It feels here very sad, anxious and ill at ease. Ships in Alang are like people – also sad and doomed.
Pieces of asbestos and other filth are scattered along the coast. After inhaling the asbestos dust the first symptoms of disease will reveal within 5-10 years, so you can imagine how healthy the Alang shipbreakers are. Nature protection activities are out of the question.
The first ship, “Kota Tenjong”, was beached at Alang on February 13, 1983. Overall there are about 400 ship-breaking yards in Alang and they are sometimes referred to as platforms, though in reality there is just a plain beach. A snap from googlemaps.
The newly arrived vessel first of all goes through an inspection and a relevant certificate should be obtained. Of course, not without a bribe sometimes. Then workers dismantle the generator, electric motors, compressors, boilers, navigation systems, electrical cables, plastics and carpeting, furniture and other utensils used in the cabins so they can be resold later. This is for example a deinstalled generator.
And this is such a familiar soviet-style hand grinder. There is even a chance that it was taken from some ukrainian or russian vessel. In Soviet era a lot of USSR ships were sent to Alang for scrapping.
After digging a bit in a big bag with scrap paper I found a logbook and technical description of some Japanese vessel.
Even lifebuoys will be later sent to the flea market where one can buy anything to furnish a new cruise ship.
Sale of these goods is the main income source of a ship-breaking venture since the price for the metal scrapped is low due to the expenses for propane cutting, transportation and salaries. Everything is dismantled with hands and simple gas cutters or with the help of some equipment left on ships.
Depending on the ship type and size the weight can range from 5,000 to 40,000 tons. Dismantling one ship of average size (15,000 tons) requires 3-6 months and 150 to 300 workers on various stages.
Talking about the work, Alang attracts a lot of people from the poorest states of India – Orissa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jarkhand. They work on the daily basis and without any working agreement.
Frankly speaking, each time I made a click with my camera I silently asked those people for forgiveness. Such workers as loaders earn 150 INR per day which is a bit more than $3. Daily salary of qualified cutters may go as high as 375 INR (around $7). They save this money to send to the villages where they have families and children. Partially this money they also use for living in Alang though their houses are small shacks just next to the yards.
Each ship-breaking yard has a sign with safety rules written in hindi but it’s a big question whether the workers are able to read them. Accidents in the dismantling process happen all the time.
The most frequent scenario is a blast happening during the fuel tank cutting if there is any fuel left inside. And then it’s totally a personal luck whether one will return home safe and sound or with numerous traumas and burnt limbs. Ideally, each ship should be inspected for fuel leftovers prior the start of dismantling, but it seems the inspection is not always done properly. News about these accidents rarely go out of the ship-breaking yards, anyway various organizations for human rights are already highlighting the ecological problems and working conditions there, but this is the least the workers care about since it might be their last option to earn money for living.
We asked one worker how it is going since it’s so hard and dangerous work. “What can I do?”, he replied. “I do any job because I don’t have choice”.
Nevertheless, every worker has a robe, helmet and boots which were not provided to them by the companies before.
Actually, ship-breaking yards are closed for visits and photography is strictly prohibited. I got a chance to make this report joining a group of couchsurfers from Ahmedabad. One of them has a friend owning a yard in Alang who allowed to photograph anything we want and even treated us with coke on such a hot day.
Three months are enough to dismantle a ship to the last screw-nut and the former power and greatness disappear forever.
Philippines was the port of origin to “Our Lady Of The Rule”. It was manufactured in 1970, the tonnage is 3785 and it belonged to CebuFerries company.
From the information googled about this vessel I found out that it was a passenger ship and back in 2009 was still in a pretty decent condition though was planned to be replaced. The website of cebuferries.com has Our Lady Of The Rule in the schedule but all the table-cells are empty, the ship is not operating in the route anymore. She went to her last voyage and now is slowly dying in Alang. This is how she looked when on the go.
Such a sad trip it was. On our way back home we saw a tank. It’s not clear where they got it from but it is possible that from some ship.