Activists call time on Indian ship scrapping
India and Bangladesh cannot be seen as a convenient graveyard for the world's rusting hulks, and ship-breaking on their shores must end.
Environmental and labour groups including Basel Action Network (BAN), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and Greenpeace have said no more ships should litter the shorelines of the Indian subcontinent, now or in the foreseeable future, due to the blatant disregard for the environment, human rights and international law.
BAN, named after the international moratorium on trafficking hazardous waste, estimates that there is an average of one death per day in the Indian ship-breaking industry, either from the cumulative effects of daily exposure to a cocktail of toxins or from the frequent explosions caused by torching fuel left in the hulks beached for scrapping.
Although India signed the original Basel Convention on hazardous waste, it refuses to acknowledge redundant ships as waste despite international agreement on the matter.
The shift in campaign groups' stance follows the latest ship breaking scandal, where the Danish ferry, Riky, was beached and cut on the infamous ship-breaking beaches of Alang in Gujurat.
The ship had been exported without the proper documentation and the Danish authorities had repeatedly asked the Indian government not to allow it to be beached, and turn it back.
But the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) dismissed the Danish requests and allowed the contaminated ship to land.
"In the absence of political will, we cannot force the shipping industry to clean up their act," said Ramapati Kumar of Greenpeace India.
"The SCMC's reversal of its earlier stance on Riky has exposed that no one, not even a Supreme Court appointed authority, is free from pressure from vested interests.
"We wanted to ensure that India received clean steel and that the ship-breaking workers could retain their jobs and their health.
"But enough is enough!
"If Indian authorities cannot stand by their commitment to international convention and national laws, and instead encourage toxic trade, it is inevitable that the industry will suffer the consequences."
The environmentalists have the full backing of the unions, who are also frustrated by the lack of regulation putting workers at risk.
"Government authorities have shown their complete inability to implement the most basic rules and regulations to safeguard labour interests the workers lose life and limb for the sake of a mere fifty rupees a day," said PK Ganguly of Centre of India Trade Unions.
"The workers would be better off seeking employment elsewhere, the government has failed them so completely that there is no point in allowing the industry to continue."
Greenpeace and BAN cite a catalogue of instances of international and national laws being abused.
By Sam Bond