mydigitalfc.com – The business of shipbreaking

(Written by Anto T Joseph)

21 December 2012 – Alang Ship Recycling Yard is one of the largest ship recycling yards in the world. In an interview with Anto T Joseph, Gujarat Maritime Board vice-chairman & CEO, Pankaj Kumar says, Alang has undergone various stages of development and has witnessed soectacular growth since its inception in 1982. Excerpts:

Alang is the world’s largest shipbreaking yard, and year 2012 has been one of the best years for the industry. What is GMB’s contribution to the industry’s growth?

Year 2012 has been historic for GMB. During the year, GMB recycled 415 ships; the highest number recycled till date at Alang, and in the process, 3.86 million tonne (light displacement tonnage or LDT) was recycled. This financial year, up to November, 266 ships were handled at Alang and 2.62 million tonne has been recycled, which in itself is a phenomenal achievement, when worldwide, the shipbreaking is at an all-time low.

GMB’s contribution has been multifold. We have taken up various initiatives like environment protection, safety and labour welfare measures, health measures and the regional development at Alang, a few of which are mentioned below:

1) Creation of the state-of-the-art training and labour welfare institute.

2) For scientifically disposing off the hazardous waste and solid waste, we have created two landfill sites. For housing migrant workers, GMB initiated a project for constructing housing facilities in a phased manner.

3) We provide services such as fire brigade, emergency response van and 108 emergency medical services.

4) Infrastructure development such as approach road, water supply, safety institute, sanitation, streetlights and fire-fighting equipment in place.

5) Realising that the nearest full-fledged hospital is at Bhavnagar, we have signed an MoU with GVK-EMRI for 108 Ambulance service, especially at Alang.

What are the difficulties faced by GMB in implementing rules and regulations (especially the supreme court order) at Alang-Sosiya? Do you think monitoring has been lax?

Alang-Sosiya Ship recycling yard is being run as per supreme court order dated September 6, 2007, which laid down the steps to be taken by various government agencies such as Customs, GMB, directorate of industrial health & safety (DISH), Gujarat Pollution Control Board, Petroleum & Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO, an institute of the central government) and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).

Only after the NOC is obtained from above the agencies, beaching of the vessel is allowed. Also, the interministerial committee (IMC) headed by the steel ministry, is monitoring the overall working of Alang-Sosiya recycling yard from time to time.

In a recent fire, seven migrant workers were killed, exposing poor safety gears used by them. Is GMB taking any action against the shipbreakers that are making migrants work without adequate safety measures?

Safety of workers and beaching operations are of prime importance to GMB. After the establishment of safety training institute, the rate of accidents has come down drastically. The last such fire accident took place in Alang in 2009. The recent accident was an unfortunate event and we been very sensitive on the issue. Strict action is initiated against the plot owners and we strive for ‘zero tolerance’. When such casualties happen, an immediate detailed inquiry is initiated and the plot where the accident happens is closed down with immediate effect till the inquiry is over. GMB also imposes penalty on the ship breaker and ensures that the family of the deceased is compensated financially as per the provisions of the regulations.

To prevent accidents, we have appointed 10 safety officers and labourers are given extensive training. We have also evolved a mechanism of safety audit. All ship-recycling activities are conducted under the direct supervision of these safety officers.

Despite several deaths of workers from accidental fire, are tankers allowed to break at Alang-Sosiya that are not ‘gas-free for hot work’?

Tankers are allowed to break or beach only after getting clearance from PESO at anchor prior to beaching. The fire incidents have been controlled to a large extent. After 2009, only in 2012, there was a major accident. The cause of the accident was leakage from pipelines when they were being decontaminated as per guidelines of PESO and department of safety and health (DISH). From 2008 to present, about 180 oil tankers have been safely recycled and we are working constantly to improve and plug any loopholes in safety measures along with inputs from other agencies.

Is the supreme court-directed desk clearance looking into all details of ships arriving at Alang for breaking? There are reports that most ships come to Alang without any protection and indemnity (P&I) cover or a certificate from the recognised classification society?

Various authorities as mentioned undertake the desk review, as per the directions of the Supreme Court earlier. Only on receipt of the clearances from various authorities, the ships are allowed to be beached at Alang.

As per the supreme court order, the work of various agencies like customs, GPCB, AERB and GMB has been well defined. During the desk review, emphasis is given on the condition that no vessel of hazardous nature is allowed to be beached. Only after clearance from the above agencies, the vessel is allowed to be beached.

Prior to beaching of any vessel at Alang, every ship is considered a normal ship and it has to comply with all international and flag state regulations for sailing vessels. Only after beaching, the ship ceases to be a vessel. It is pertinent to note that any vessel can only sail or get port clearance from the last port only after all its certificates required for sailing are in proper order. So it may not be true to say that most ships come to Alang without any P&I cover or certificate from a recognised classification society. It is pertinent to mention here that the vessel owner is liable for criminal negligence for putting a vessel to sea if he tries to circumvent any law.

Permission to use plots (lease) has expired in September 2009. Why is it not renewed for such a long time?

The validity of the earlier regulation has been extended and there are no cases where lease permission is not renewed.