NOTE: This is a guest post from Patrizia Heidegger, the Executive Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
Consumers worldwide more and more demand transparency of the supply chain — to know where, when and how the goods they buy were produced, and who produced them. The growing demand to hold companies responsible in our globalized economy is now also reflected in international law since the international community has agreed that businesses have a legal obligation to respect human rights — not only inside their own premises, but in their whole sphere of influence.
The maritime sector and shipping has largely remained unshaken by these changes. We have witnessed important developments with regards to the mitigation of maritime pollution (such as oil spills) and harmful emissions (especially in coastal areas). But, have you ever wondered what happens to a ship at the end of its life? Where do ships go to die when they get too old to sail across the oceans or just aren’t profitable enough?
If you bought a car recently, gone to IKEA to purchase a new shelf or a sofa, or strolled in your favorite shopping mall to find clothes at a bargain price, you have probably been in touch with the shipping world without realizing it. The vast majority of what you can buy in shopping malls and supermarkets has been shipped there. Shipping remains the cheapest way to carry goods around the world.
Thousands of ships of all kinds and sizes roam the seas at all times: passenger ships such as cruise ships and ferries, oil and gas tankers, container ships, dry cargo ships, etc. According to UNCTAD, 80% of the world trade is carried by sea. The fact that goods can flow easily and cheaply around the world on ships is one of the main driving factors behind the globalized economy.
What Happens to Ships?
When boats reach the end of their service lives, the vast majority of them are sold for breaking to yards located on the tidal beaches of South Asia, where ship owners are ensured the maximum profit margin through the sale of their ships. Whereas European-based ship recyclers can offer ship owners between 150 and 225 EUR per ton of steel, South Asian shipbreakers can offer up to 450 EUR per ton — a profit shipowners are reluctant to give away.
Like other economic sectors, shipping was hit by the financial crisis. Private and institutional investors are willing to invest in brand new eco-ships, which pushes older ships towards the exit door. The high number of ships ordered before the financial crash means that many ships are laid up in ports; there is currently an overabundance of ships worldwide. More and more ships are sold for dismantling and, therefore, end up on the scrap heaps of South Asia.
India, Bangladesh and Pakistan: together, these three beaching destinations represent 70% of the shipbreaking capacity worldwide. Every day, scores of unskilled and unprotected workers are deployed by the thousands in the shanty towns of Alang and Mumbai (India), Chittagong (Bangladesh) and Gadani (Pakistan), away from the public’s eye (but not from Google Maps). In 2012, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform recorded that at least 365 end-of-life ships were beached in South Asia for breaking by European companies alone. That means that one ship was beached every day by companies that know about safer and cleaner alternatives.
Next page: How this hurts workers and the environment…
Photo Credit: NGO Shipbreaking Platform 2012
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