Times of India – Centre to act tough on states allowing toxic ships

(Written by Arun Janardhanan)

8 July 2012 - CHENNAI: Union shipping ministry has warned of serious action against state governments that fail to keep a tab on the entry of toxic-dead vessels to India for dismantling. Shipping minister G K Vasan said the ministry has tightened its monitoring and there are strong rules in place to stop the entry of such dangerous vessels.

According to unofficial figures, more than 5,900 vessels had reached the Indian shores in the last 20 years for breaking. The shipping ministry has registered about 400 foreign vessels in this category last year.

Vasan said major ship-breaking units in the country including those in Gujarat should follow the rules. Alang and Sosia Ship Breaking Yard (ASSBY) in Gujarat is one of the largest in Asia. Alang entered the business in 1983.

Last month, environmental experts sent several petitions to the ministry of environment and forest and the shipping ministry to stop the entry of a dead US ship Exxon after it got permission from the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) to anchor off Bhavnagar on June 28.

When asked about the Gujarat incident, Vasan said the governments including Gujarat should be answerable if they are permitting dead vessels in violation of norms. In May 2012, the US Maritime Administartion cleared a dead and hazardous US flagged ship, Delaware Trader, for dismantling in on Alang beach. According to shipping officials, many such vessels enter the Indian waters showing trade papaers, but move to ship-breaking yards. Since the Indian government has no effective system to stop the vessels at the maritime border, neither the Indian Coast Guard nor the Indian Navy are able to trace them later.

Gopal Krishna, environmentalist and researcher on ship-breaking in India, says the Alang beach is one of the worst in the world. “People work under extremely dangerous and polluting conditions on tidal sands, cutting down ships by hand, exposing themselves to the risks of toxic chemicals, fire, explosions and falling steel plates. Pollutants are allowed to flow unimpeded into the marine environment,” said Krishna, who represents ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), a Delhi-based organisation.