IHS Maritime 360 – Alang breakers’ certification fuels flooring debate

Written by Girija Shettar

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15 October 2015 - ClassNK’s recent certification of two shipbreaking yards in Alang has drawn flak from recycling watchdogs, which question the effectiveness of the yards’ use of impermeable flooring.

While the Japanese classification society told IHS Maritime that impermeable flooring is a “key” criterion for breakers to gain its compliance certification, activists claim the shipyards’ methods fail to adequately safeguard against pollution.

Last month, ClassNK issued certificates to RL Kalthia Ship Breaking and Priya Blue Industries that confirm they are “in line with the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009 [HKC]“, according to the class society.

Yet environment advocates argue the two yards present pollution risks because their impermeable flooring is only on the upper part of the beach, not where ship cutting is carried out.

Ingvild Jenssen, founder and policy advisor for activist group NGO Shipbreaking Platform, told IHS Maritime that ship recycling in Alang is carried out on an “intertidal zone which is not cemented/impermeable and where cut-off steel blocks are allowed to fall before being winched up to the secondary cutting zone”.

While acknowledging that cut-off blocks “can fall within the ship structure, thus the hull is used as impermeable flooring”, Jenssen claimed “the first blocks are not able to fall within the ship” so would fall onto the beach.

She also criticised the “gravity method” as “a dangerous practice that should be replaced by the use of cranes to lift the cut-off blocks”.

Answering this concern, Leopold said: “Yes, the gravity method can be dangerous if not properly executed and the workers are not following the safety guidelines, as implemented into the SRFP (Ship Recycling Facility Plan). [But] there is no technical reason to condemn the gravity method, quite the contrary, it can be more dangerous to move heavy swinging parts with cranes in heights, if not properly executed.”

ClassNK said that under the HKC, ship recycling facilities (SRFs) can prevent harmful spills or emissions in intertidal zones from dirty blocks and equipment “by covering the workspace with impermeable flooring and installing a drainage system which has sufficient capacity to handle hazardous materials with proper procedure and operation”.

“Thus, impermeable flooring was one of the key conditions ClassNK examined before issuing statements of compliance to the two SRFs in India,” said the class society.

Spokespeople for the two yards confirmed to IHS Maritime via email that the yards use the “gravity method” and that the blocks are then lifted to the area of the beach covered with impermeable flooring.

But Gerd Leopold, a spokesperson for Priya Blue, said the company applies methods that prevent pollution.

“It is of utmost importance to follow the guidelines, issued by ClassNK, to be in line with safety standards and to avoid any kind of pollution,” said Leopold, commenting on behalf of Priya Blue director Sanjay Mehta.

“The blocks are cleaned properly before cutting. Then the block falls into the ship. Subsequently further cleaning is done. Thereafter the blocks are cut into small parts and then by the help of cranes blocks are shifted to the impermeable flooring [Second Cutting Zone] for further cutting.”

Leopold added that the yard would be “willing” to invest in a large crane and shift from the gravity method, if this were made possible through greater investment from shipowners.

But he emphasised that this purchase would only be on the basis that “using a higher carrying capacity would increase the productivity” of the yard.

He added that only “a very small group of owners” are considering “green recycling at the highest international standards” and are willing to accept a lower price to deliver to a green yard.

Chintan Kalthia, of RL Kalthia Ship Breaking, similarly explained that blocks “cut from the sides of the ships are falling into the ships” but some “clean” blocks “fall in the sand or the sea”.

“Only clean blocks are allowed to be dropped in the inter-tidal zone”, from where they “are winched on[to] shore before high tide”, he said.

Kalthia also claimed this practice presents no risks of pollution. “The soil samples have not shown concentrations which are of concern,” he said.

He added that ships sent for recycling “have mostly not so much paint left on the underwater hull, as all anti-fouling coatings are abrasive and ships keep releasing them during normal operations. Ships are usually not sold for recycling with freshly applied anti-foulings”.

Leopold is keen for the recycling method of these two ClassNK/Hong Kong Convention compliant yards to be known as “intertidal landing” rather than “beaching”, which he views as having “negative connotations”.

The vital issue is “whether the vessel itself is safely secured and the environment is protected against any kind of pollution”, he added. At Priya Blue, the vessel is secured by chains tied to winches on the yard, said Leopold.

“The vessel will be recycled strictly in line with the SRFP [Ship Recycling Facility Plan], which means all tanks are emptied, all liquids removed, even before the cutting starts,” he said.

“This will be checked from local authorities before they give cutting permission.”

Before intertidal landing, oil booms are tied around the vessel so they can be lowered to trap any spillage, he added.

“The leading yards at Alang have invested in the future, without any support, in order to be certified to work in compliance with the Hong Kong Convention and fulfil future requirements,” said Leopold.

Yet Jenssen said the “true test” of whether the yards in Alang operate in a safe and environmentally sound manner is “whether they will pass the EU test for approval to be listed on the upcoming EU list of ship-recycling facilities”.