“Shipbreaking is a hazardous industry for both workers and the environment. Despite the fact that Pakistan is one of the world’s largest shipbreaking countries – currently ranking fourth in the annually scrapped volume both in terms of scrapped tonnage and in number of ships – so far only little attention has been given to the sector, both by the government as well as civil society. In spite of the dangers of shipbreaking, workers in Pakistan are still not adequately protected and trained to reduce the risks of associated hazards. The industry is shaken by frequent accidents that injure, maim and kill workers.
Hazardous wastes such as oil residues and toxic paints are released on the beach where the ship is broken, and the hazardous wastes that are recovered from the ships are not handled, stored and disposed of properly, but dumped around the shipbreaking yards or re-sold on the local market. Due to the lack of adequate technology and equipment as well as deficient law enforcement, proper waste handling procedures are not followed. So far, the sector can neither prevent pollution and the distribution of hazardous materials into the local market nor mitigate the risks of accidents and occupational diseases.
Although most ships are dismantled in countries far away from the headquarters of the large ship-owning companies, the primary responsibility for clean and safe ship recycling lies with the ship owners who have benefited economically from the operation of their vessels over the years. By selling an end-of-life vessel to South Asia companies obtain the highest price for their ships as they do not have to take into account the real costs of clean and safe recycling, but can externalise costs to countries where shipbreaking is cheap not only due to low labour costs, but also due to a lack of environmental standards, no proper waste management and inadequate health and safety requirements for the workforce.
After more than 15 years of discussion on the international level on necessary steps for safe and clean shipbreaking, the expertise has long been available to change the current practices in South Asia. The Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform call with this report on the Pakistani authorities together with the local shipbreaking industry– in a joint effort with international organisations – to urgently initiate the change needed to turn the industry into a safe and “green” sector. In order to accomplish this goal, the shipbreaking industry needs to move its activities from breaking ships directly on the beaches to structures that allow for the full containment of pollutants, proper handling of hazardous wastes, and the safe use of heavy lifting equipment and the rapid access of emergency response in case of accidents.
Pakistan is State party to the Basel Convention and must therefore ensure the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes if it allows for the import of end-of-life vessels. Moreover, new legislation such as the EU Regulation on Ship Recycling, which will be applicable within five years, and the Hong Kong Convention, which has not yet entered into force, will demand substantial improvements if the sector in Pakistan wants to compete with countries offering safe and “green” ship recycling. The pressure on governments in ship-owning countries, for instance in the European Union, as well as on the shipping industry, to ensure that end-of-life vessels are recycled in compliance with international standards, is constantly growing. More and more ship owners seek clean and safe solutions already, and a competitive ship recycling industry must therefore be based on high standards of environmental protection and workers’ safety.
This study presents a short overview of the economic conditions and the international and domestic legal framework according to which the Pakistani shipbreaking sector needs to operate, and provides information on the current conditions in the shipbreaking yards in Pakistan based on a survey conducted amongst workers, on yard observations, and during stakeholder consultations. In publishing this paper, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform and its member organisation in Pakistan, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), seek to contribute to the discussion on how to change shipbreaking practices in Pakistan so that they become clean and safe, and provide research-based policy recommendations to that end. We hope that our recommendations will reach out to decision-makers in Pakistan, in Europe and beyond, and that it will convince more and more stakeholders of the necessity and the economic benefit of reducing the risks and controversy associated with shipbreaking on tidal beaches in South Asia. Higher standards will be required to maintain the viability and sustainability of the sector in Pakistan, and the sooner the industry starts to take the necessary steps, the easier the transition will be.”