Shipbreaking (also called ship demolition) is the process of dismantling ships for scrap metal and recycling or disposal. Today the ship breaking process takes place in a facility called ship breaking yard, while in the past scrapping ships took place in major port cities worldwide, and mostly in those of highly industrialized countries (UK, USA, Germany, Italy). Ship dismantling includes numerous manual procedures and entirely excludes automation solutions, resulting in substantially higher labor costs. This is the primary reason today the largest ship braking yards to be located and operated in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China - countries with extremely low labor cost and almost no environmental laws.
Ship breaking is only one of several main ship disposal alternatives, also including hulking, floating or dry-dock storage, donation or sale for reuse, deep-water sinking and making artificial reefs (for detailed info check Ship Recycling). Having an average lifespan of a 20-40 years (depending on ship type), most ships become obsolete when the repair and refitting becomes uneconomical for the owner. Generally, ships ready for scrapping are put up for sale by their owners and usually the highest bidder wins the contract. Most of these already doomed vessels can make it to the scrapping yard under their own power, thus avoiding the not cheap charge for towing.
There are four major economic benefits of breaking ships for scrap and recycling that have made the breaking of ships a powerful industry:
- Steel production - the ships scrapping is the country's main source of steel, it reduces the need to import steel materials, thus saving huge amount of money.
- A "green industry" - the ship breaking scrap signifies reusing and recycling of almost everything on the vessel and the vessel itself, providing raw materials to the steel industry, asbestos for re-manufacturing factories, even furniture, electrical and electronic equipment, lubricants, oil, etc.
- The shipbreaking industry generates large Government tax revenues mainly through import duties and the yards tax.
- Employment - shipbreaking provides employment for some of the poorest people of the world, who would otherwise have no employment at all.
But all these economic benefits should be considered together with the social and environmental costs. People live and work in the most primitive conditions, high levels of pollution (most ships are used to carry such hazardous materials, like radioactive and toxic wastes, poisonous chemicals and oil), a severe contamination of the sea bed and the entire marine food chain.
Shipbreaking is one of the most hazardous jobs and among the world's most dangerous professions according to the International Labour Organization. In Bangladesh, India and Pakistan there's an average of 1 serious accident per day and 1 death per week on the ship breaking yards, the main causes being falls, fire and explosions, suffocation, falling objects, and many workers contract cancers caused by asbestos and numerous other toxic substances. Still are not respected by the industry all orders to the yards to produce environmental certificates, pre-cleaning reports and to ban the import of ships for scrap that had not been decontaminated in the export country.
Ship breaking in Gadani, Pakistan (YouTube video)
The ship cemeteries are where the beauty of all once beloved ships shines for the very last time. From most rusty freighters to 5-star cruise liners and famous passenger ships are literally dumped on the beach of some of the poorest countries in the world to be stripped of all honors and destroyed by the wretched of the earth. Thousands of the world's biggest ships have been driven onto the remote beaches of Alang, Chittagong, Gadani, Aliaga - to be seen no more.
Info sources - Wikipedia, cbc.ca, nbc.com, greenpeace.nl (in Dutch) and osha.gov. If you like this survey, you may share it with your friends at Google+, Facebook or Tweeter (the 3 colorful buttons below). Other closely related and integrated articles: