Asbestos deaths prompt calls to end toxic ship export

An international NGO coalition called for a halt to the export of toxic ships for dismantling in developing countries after it emerged that work-related incurable diseases and deadly accidents affect thousands of Indian shipyard workers.

The Indian government should “cease pretending” that the Basel Convention, an international treaty on the disposal of toxic waste, does not apply to ships and ship construction materials, the group of environmental and human rights groups said.

Debate as to whether ships count as toxic waste for the purposes of the treaty persists, while the West continues to export end-of-life ships, often contaminated with asbestos, to poor countries to be dismantled.

Proper enforcement of the ban enshrined in international law should start with the SS Norway now lying on a beach in Alang, India, which should be sent back to Europe. The ship is estimated to contain 1,200 tonnes of asbestos.

A recent report by an environmental committee of the Indian government found that 16% of all shipyard workers employed in ship-breaking suffer from asbestosis, an incurable disease cause by working with asbestos which causes respiratory debilitation and failure and can lead to lung cancer.

As many as 2 in 1000 ship-breakers die in work-related accidents each year, the report also revealed.

“Any authorization to break the SS Norway or any other toxic ship is tantamount to the state authorizing murder. It is capital punishment for the poor,” said Gopal Krishna of India’s Ban Asbestos Network.

The NGO network, which includes Greenpeace, the European Federation for Transport and the Environment, and Norwegian green group Bellona among others, called for an immediate halt to the export of toxic ships from Western countries to the developing world, a thorough assessment of the health risks associated with ship-breaking, and full compensation for the workers affected.

Goska Romanowicz

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