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“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 – so far only little attention has been given to the sector in Pakistan both by the government as well as civil society. Despite the dangers presented by 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 recovered from the ship s 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, proper waste handling procedures are not followed. So far, the sector can neither prevent pollution and the repartition 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 economically benefit from their vessels over several years. Currently, selling an end-of-life vessel to South Asia means following the path of least resistance. 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 them to the importing country instead.
After more than 15 years of discussion at the international level about how to make shipbreaking cleaner and safer, the necessary expertise is now available to change the current practice. The Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform believe that the Pakistani authorities together with the local shipbreaking industry can – in a joint effort with international organisations – initiate the change needed to turn the industry into a “green” sector. In order to accomplish this goal, the shipbreaking industry needs to adopt more advanced methods, as practised in other parts of the world, and move its activities from breaking ships directly on the beaches to structures that allow for the containment of pollutants, proper handling of hazardous wastes, 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 and the Hong Kong Convention, neither of which have yet entered into force, will demand an upgrade if the sector in Pakistan wants to compete with countries offering “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. 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, yard observations, and stakeholder consultation. In publishing this paper, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform and its member organisation Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) seek to contribute to the discussion on how to make shipbreaking in Pakistan cleaner and safer, and to provide researchbased policy recommendations.
We hope that our recommendations will help us reach out to decision-makers in Pakistan, in Europe and on the international level and to convince more and more stakeholders that the reduction of risks and controversy associated with shipbreaking in South Asia are recommendable also from an economic point of view. 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 will the transition be.”