Human Rights and Environmental Groups Condemn Blue Lady Ruling

Banned in 45 countries, Pro-Asbestos Judges allow its use and reuse in India

New Delhi; Brussels 12 September 2007: The NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, a global coalition of environmental, labour and human rights organisations, today condemned the Indian Supreme Court’s September 11th decision to allow the demolition of the asbestos laden ocean liner SS Blue Lady (formerly SS France, SS Norway).

Since June of last year the Platform has provided indisputable evidence to the Indian Supreme court that the SS Blue Lady contains large amounts of hazardous materials that can not be dealt with in a safe and environmentally sound manner on the beaches of Alang, India. The Platform has also unfailingly notified the Court that allowing the dismantling of this toxics laden cruise liner is in breach with India’s own laws and commitments to international labour rights and environmental Conventions. Despite this, the vessel was allowed to be beached on 17 August 2006 and will now be dismantled in Alang at the inevitable cost of workers’ lives and environmental contamination. Just days previous, on September 6th, the Supreme Court passed a judgement calling for all ships coming into India destined for breaking to be emptied of all hazardous materials before export to India. Bangladesh already refused to dismantle the SS Blue Lady in February 2006 due to the large amounts of hazardous wastes on board.

“The Blue Lady ruling yesterday makes a mockery of the Indian judicial system and shows it has no respect for their own rulings, and international law, but likewise has officially condemned the shipbreaking workers to death by accident or from occupational disease such as asbestosis and cancer,” said Ingvild Jenssen, Platform coordinator. “This ruling sends an unmistakable signal that India does not care about the welfare of its poorest most desperate workers.”

After the EU's legal judgement to have the ex-aircraft carrier Clemenceau returned in compliance with the international Basel Convention in 2006, the Alang industry and their associates in government have been desperate to give India's internationally condemned shipbreaking industry a boost. According to the Platform, the Blue Lady was illegally beached to achieve this objective and will now be illegally broken.

No full inventory of the hazardous materials onboard the vessel was provided to the Indian Government before the vessel entered Indian territorial waters, as is required by the UN Basel Convention and under Indian law. The permission to beach the vessel was based on a flawed visual inspection of the vessel by a Technical Committee established for this purpose and formed as well as chaired by the same agencies that stand accused of violating the law in shipbreaking matters. No samplings of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were made which typically exist in large amounts in ships of this vintage; the Committee failed to note the presence of 5,500 fire detection points containing radioactive substances; and the well over 1,000 tons of asbestos contaminated materials known to be on board were said to be of no concern. This was stated despite the admission that 16% of the workers in Alang were found to have beginning signs of asbestosis, a respiratory disease which can lead to cancer and then to death.

The Platform has made the court fully aware that India lacks the capacity to properly destroy PCBs in accordance with the UN Stockholm Convention; that there is no capacity for managing the large number of radioactive materials discovered; and as India still refuses to ban all forms of asbestos use, and actually allows the recycling of this globally condemned substance, it will be allowed to continue to kill unsuspicious workers and buyers of asbestos containing materials.

The Court has consistently chosen to ignore the Platform’s submissions to the SS Blue Lady case; they have also paid no attention to the concerns of 30.000 villagers living in the surrounding areas of the Alang yards. These have in a petition to the Court in March 2007 asserted that asbestos dust is regularly contaminating the vicinity of the yards, including their living quarters, and that oil spills cause a serious threat to their livelihood as fisherman.

“The shipbreaking industry as operating today in India is an aberration against all norms of decency and humanity. By continuing to protect it, rather than reform it, India will soon find itself as a pariah among nations, and ironically their dirty business will be denied by the rest of the global community and hence fade out” said representative in India. “Its time for India to wake up.”

The Platform is now considering its next legal steps and intends to challenge the ruling in national and global arenas.

Comments

Anonymous said…
The Report of Supreme Court appointed Prof. MGK Menon headed High Power Committee took note of "Shipbreaking activities and hazardous wastes":

It notes: On 20th April, 2000, while considering the affidavit filed by the CPCB on shipbreaking at Alang the Hon’ble Supreme Court passed the following orders:

The contention is that steps should be taken to ensure that ships which came to India for shipbreaking should be properly decontaminated before they are exported to India. This aspect is being considered by the High Power Committee.

Terms of Rreference 14 was thus added.

Like many industries, the shipbreaking industry has grown and expanded the world over in the past three to four decades. The shipbreaking industry performs two major roles. On one hand, it adjusts ship tonnage by way of disposing of old ships for the shipping industry, and secondly it supplies substantial quantity of re-rollable and scrap steel for the iron and steel industry. It increases the availability of such semi-finished material, which otherwise would have to be produced by the steel industry using the ore. Thus, it helps in conservation of natural resources. Furthermore, wastes generated in the shipbreaking industry are significantly less than those from integrated steel plants.

In India, till the sixties, shipbreaking was confined mainly to the dismantling of small barges and coastal wrecks. The activity grew into a full-fledged industry by 1979, when the Government of India recognised it as a manufacturing industry. Now it has been recognised as a manufacturing process under the Central Excise and Sales Act.

The shipbreaking activities are carried out at various places along the coasts of the country. However, the main centre lies on the West Coast at Alang, Gujarat. The large tidal range and geomorphological characteristics of the beach at Alang make it an ideal location for shipbreaking. The shipbreaking activity at Alang began in 1982 and now accommodates 182 plots spread along approximately 10 kms of the sea coast of Alang and Sosiya. Currently, 141 plots are in operation and Alang is considered to be the largest shipbreaking yard in the world.

This industry generates steel scrap which is directly used by the re-rolling industries. Currently, it produces around 2 million tonnes of re-rollable steel per annum. The industry is energy-saving and recycling in nature, adding considerable quantities to the availability of steel and iron without going through the process of extracting metals from the ore—thus saving the country’s mineral resources and energy to a certain extent. These are important considerations that support the recycling activities at Alang.

The industry also provides employment to around 40,000 people in direct and indirect ways. This has led to the development of ancillary businesses, making India one of the leading operators in the shipbreaking industry. There is considerable possibility of this industry growing in the coming years, thus ensuring gainful employment to large numbers of workers.

HPC members visited the shipbreaking industry at Alang on 20th Sept. 2000. Representatives from the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and the CPCB (West Zone Office) and the Ship-Breakers’ Association were also present during the visit.

The HPC was informed that, on an average, around 200 ships are broken up every year. A total of 2453 ships have been broken amounting to 17265250 LDT (17.3 million tonnes) till 1999. Materials which are obtained on breaking different types of ships vary with size (LDT) and type of ship, and these are:

• Steel plates, structures, pipes, beams, angles, channel, etc.
• Engines and spare parts
• Refrigerators and washing machines
• Wood (door, panels, furniture, etc.)
• Cables (PVC coated, copper and aluminium cables)
• Glass wool, Thermocole (sheet form)
• Oils (Furnace oil, lubricating oil, transformer oil and oil sludge)
• Lead acid batteries

The items mentioned above are auctioned/sold to recycling/re-rolling mills and other associated industries.

After the site visit, a meeting was organised at Alang to discuss the problems and issues related to the shipbreaking industry. The President of the Shipbreakers’ Association, owners of shipbreaking plots, and representatives from the GMB and the CPCB were present at the meeting.

The President of the Shipbreakers’ Association narrated the history of the shipbreaking industry and the development which has occurred over the years. He mentioned the advantages of this industry, namely the conservation of natural resources, energy saving and generation of employment.

Regarding the occupational health hazards arising from this industrial activity, he stated that safety equipment and medical facilities are provided to the workers.

For the disposal and treatment of solid wastes, he said that the construction of a secured landfill and the installation of an incinerator have been planned.

During the meeting, representatives of the GMB described their role in creating infrastructural facilities such as construction and maintenance of roads, water supply and other needs, e.g. plots, buildings for banks, post office, telephone exchange, hospital, office for factory inspectors and customs, etc. Safety devices such as fire-fighting equipment at site and sanitation facilities for the labourers have been provided. The GMB plans to develop a secured landfill site which has been notified by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board. (Note by Gujarat Maritime Board on Alang; AERB Report on Alang are placed at Vol.II: Annex A11; CPCB Environment Guidelines on Shipbreaking; Report of the GSPCB on Alang are placed at Vol.III: Annex B6.)

Observations of the HPC on the visit at Alang:

The HPC observed that various solid wastes—some of which are hazardous/highly toxic in nature—are generated during the breaking process. These are mainly:

• Paint chips;
• Scale generated during gas cutting of steel;
• Ceramic tiles;
• Glass wool and fibrous insulation materials;
• Asbestos sheets, ropes and insulation;
• Oil sludge; waste oil;
• Thermocole, plastics, fibre glass, linoleum, sun-mica etc.

Some of these, including paint chips, asbestos and oily wastes are conventional contaminants associated with the ships. In addition, it is also possible that some of these ships might be contaminated with hazardous substances, including radio-active materials.

Besides solid wastes, gases such as ammonia, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from the air conditioning system, and inflammable gases may be present in the pipelines of oil tankers and LPG/LNG carriers. However, no authentic data is available on the above mentioned wastes. As per the information given to the HPC, the solid waste generated is about 4000 MT/yr. It was observed that there is considerable unauthorised and environmentally unsound disposal of solid wastes such as thermocole pieces, porcelain, rubber, glass wool, oily cotton, etc. which are dumped/scattered on the beach as well as on both sides of the road at several places from Trapaj to Alang. It was also learnt that there were about 40 deaths every year due to accidents and other causes associated with the shipbreaking activities.

The Alang Shipbreaking Yards in Gujrat are plots on the Alang beach assigned to plot holders who purchase ships for breaking, then have them piloted to the Gujarat coast. The difference between low and high tide in this area is more than 10 metres which makes it ideal terrein for beaching and dismantling operations.
House-keeping in the shipbreaking industry is fairly poor or non-existent. Everywhere the beach is strewn with debris and litter from broken ships including non-biodegradable thermocole, and asbestos.

The beach has retained a permanent dark stain due to continuous exposure to oily wastes.

PVC bags bloated with oil sludges taken from the ship prior to its dismantling. Many of the bags had burst their contents onto the sand. Yet HPC was continually assured the oil was "carefully" removed from ships before they were broken.

More than 90 per cent of the material is steel, less than 1% is considered hazardous waste. Yet, even this 1% is not handled as per the laws and guidelines on shipbreaking in force. The graveyard of ships may eventually become a graveyard of the environment as well.

Open fires on the beach used to eliminate hazardous wastes like asbestos, thermocole, glass wool and other unwanted debris. This practice must be absolutely abandoned as it is a source of dangerous air pollutants as well.

There is no established or regulated procedure for breaking the ship. The shipbreaking operation is undertaken based on the type of ship and past experience. Before the breaking operation, the following steps are taken: The Ship Captain issues a certificate declaring that the ship can be beached. After arrival, the ship is checked by the Customs which issues a certificate after checking the items (87 Nos.) for cargo free clearance. After this, the GMB gives the beaching permission. The clearance, however, does not reflect the presence of hazardous waste and radioactive substances on the ship. (This deficiency must be corrected if the HW Rules, 1989, are to be implemented.) Full information on the type and quantity of hazardous wastes and radioactive materials, if any, must be provided before any ship is allowed to be broken.

Although data on various recyclable materials (mostly steel) and wastes are available, the quantity and type of wastes and recyclable material will vary with the size and type of each vessel, i.e. cargo-ship, warship or oil/bulk carrier.

The HPC saw unauthorised disposal of wastes at a number of plots. Waste material, including asbestos and glass wool, were found in piles of burning debris on the beach. This is in violation of the CRZ notification.

A number of unauthorised units are also engaged in the shipbreaking operation.

House-keeping is, on the whole, poor. The beach area within 100 metres of the High Tide Line has been completely contaminated with debris and waste oil.

There is little doubt that the activity is hazardous to the health of the workers. Firstly, considerable quantities (~ 5 tonnes per ship) of asbestos are generated during the dismantling of every vessel. The production and handling of asbestos is banned in most of the advanced countries; and the import of asbestos waste into India is banned under the Basel Convention. The import of asbestos waste was banned by the Government of India in 1998. It is understood that the new generation of ships being produced in Japan and Europe may not use asbestos any more for air-conditioning or insulation, and hence the asbestos problem may be of a transitional nature. But, during the interim period, it is essential that any workers handling this material must be fully protected; and that both their work and health be monitored.

Another matter to consider is the large incidence of industrial accidents that occur every year. That workers die or often suffer severe injuries during operations was not denied by the shipbreaking contractors. An average of upto 40 deaths have been reported every year. Such large-scale fatalities are unacceptable. Steps must be taken to ensure better safety standards in the industry. Full accountability and heavy penalties to the industry in case of death or disability, and compensation to the injured worker must go hand in hand to ensure that safe practices are introduced and complied with. In addition, widespread burning activities in which hazardous wastes are involved, and which generate considerable air pollution, are bound to have a deleterious impact on workers’ health.

Finally, the port authorities must be vigilant regarding the possibility of ships that have been used for carrying toxic or radioactive wastes coming in for breakage. Vigilance in this matter calls for upgraded laboratory facilities for analysis, radiation monitoring equipment, and well-trained staff. As the Alang Shipbreaking Yard is intended to be a major activity and facility, it should be equipped with analytical capabilities which would enable it to carry out the first level of inspections relating to radioactive, toxic and other hazardous materials.

The HPC is of the opinion that if the shipbreaking activities at Alang are to be continued, the facilities must be modernised with proper control measures. On the negative side, serious consideration needs to be given to the major environmental problems associated with the activity, and these need to be addressed if the shipbreaking industry is to be encouraged to grow, or even to continue.
Anonymous said…
The Report of Supreme Court appointed Prof. MGK Menon headed High Power Committee took note of "Shipbreaking activities and hazardous wastes":

It notes: On 20th April, 2000, while considering the affidavit filed by the CPCB on shipbreaking at Alang the Hon’ble Supreme Court passed the following orders:

The contention is that steps should be taken to ensure that ships which came to India for shipbreaking should be properly decontaminated before they are exported to India. This aspect is being considered by the High Power Committee.

Terms of Rreference 14 was thus added.

Like many industries, the shipbreaking industry has grown and expanded the world over in the past three to four decades. The shipbreaking industry performs two major roles. On one hand, it adjusts ship tonnage by way of disposing of old ships for the shipping industry, and secondly it supplies substantial quantity of re-rollable and scrap steel for the iron and steel industry. It increases the availability of such semi-finished material, which otherwise would have to be produced by the steel industry using the ore. Thus, it helps in conservation of natural resources. Furthermore, wastes generated in the shipbreaking industry are significantly less than those from integrated steel plants.

In India, till the sixties, shipbreaking was confined mainly to the dismantling of small barges and coastal wrecks. The activity grew into a full-fledged industry by 1979, when the Government of India recognised it as a manufacturing industry. Now it has been recognised as a manufacturing process under the Central Excise and Sales Act.

The shipbreaking activities are carried out at various places along the coasts of the country. However, the main centre lies on the West Coast at Alang, Gujarat. The large tidal range and geomorphological characteristics of the beach at Alang make it an ideal location for shipbreaking. The shipbreaking activity at Alang began in 1982 and now accommodates 182 plots spread along approximately 10 kms of the sea coast of Alang and Sosiya. Currently, 141 plots are in operation and Alang is considered to be the largest shipbreaking yard in the world.

This industry generates steel scrap which is directly used by the re-rolling industries. Currently, it produces around 2 million tonnes of re-rollable steel per annum. The industry is energy-saving and recycling in nature, adding considerable quantities to the availability of steel and iron without going through the process of extracting metals from the ore—thus saving the country’s mineral resources and energy to a certain extent. These are important considerations that support the recycling activities at Alang.

The industry also provides employment to around 40,000 people in direct and indirect ways. This has led to the development of ancillary businesses, making India one of the leading operators in the shipbreaking industry. There is considerable possibility of this industry growing in the coming years, thus ensuring gainful employment to large numbers of workers.

HPC members visited the shipbreaking industry at Alang on 20th Sept. 2000. Representatives from the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and the CPCB (West Zone Office) and the Ship-Breakers’ Association were also present during the visit.

The HPC was informed that, on an average, around 200 ships are broken up every year. A total of 2453 ships have been broken amounting to 17265250 LDT (17.3 million tonnes) till 1999. Materials which are obtained on breaking different types of ships vary with size (LDT) and type of ship, and these are:

• Steel plates, structures, pipes, beams, angles, channel, etc.
• Engines and spare parts
• Refrigerators and washing machines
• Wood (door, panels, furniture, etc.)
• Cables (PVC coated, copper and aluminium cables)
• Glass wool, Thermocole (sheet form)
• Oils (Furnace oil, lubricating oil, transformer oil and oil sludge)
• Lead acid batteries

The items mentioned above are auctioned/sold to recycling/re-rolling mills and other associated industries.

After the site visit, a meeting was organised at Alang to discuss the problems and issues related to the shipbreaking industry. The President of the Shipbreakers’ Association, owners of shipbreaking plots, and representatives from the GMB and the CPCB were present at the meeting.

The President of the Shipbreakers’ Association narrated the history of the shipbreaking industry and the development which has occurred over the years. He mentioned the advantages of this industry, namely the conservation of natural resources, energy saving and generation of employment.

Regarding the occupational health hazards arising from this industrial activity, he stated that safety equipment and medical facilities are provided to the workers.

For the disposal and treatment of solid wastes, he said that the construction of a secured landfill and the installation of an incinerator have been planned.

During the meeting, representatives of the GMB described their role in creating infrastructural facilities such as construction and maintenance of roads, water supply and other needs, e.g. plots, buildings for banks, post office, telephone exchange, hospital, office for factory inspectors and customs, etc. Safety devices such as fire-fighting equipment at site and sanitation facilities for the labourers have been provided. The GMB plans to develop a secured landfill site which has been notified by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board. (Note by Gujarat Maritime Board on Alang; AERB Report on Alang are placed at Vol.II: Annex A11; CPCB Environment Guidelines on Shipbreaking; Report of the GSPCB on Alang are placed at Vol.III: Annex B6.)

Observations of the HPC on the visit at Alang:

The HPC observed that various solid wastes—some of which are hazardous/highly toxic in nature—are generated during the breaking process. These are mainly:

• Paint chips;
• Scale generated during gas cutting of steel;
• Ceramic tiles;
• Glass wool and fibrous insulation materials;
• Asbestos sheets, ropes and insulation;
• Oil sludge; waste oil;
• Thermocole, plastics, fibre glass, linoleum, sun-mica etc.

Some of these, including paint chips, asbestos and oily wastes are conventional contaminants associated with the ships. In addition, it is also possible that some of these ships might be contaminated with hazardous substances, including radio-active materials.

Besides solid wastes, gases such as ammonia, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from the air conditioning system, and inflammable gases may be present in the pipelines of oil tankers and LPG/LNG carriers. However, no authentic data is available on the above mentioned wastes. As per the information given to the HPC, the solid waste generated is about 4000 MT/yr. It was observed that there is considerable unauthorised and environmentally unsound disposal of solid wastes such as thermocole pieces, porcelain, rubber, glass wool, oily cotton, etc. which are dumped/scattered on the beach as well as on both sides of the road at several places from Trapaj to Alang. It was also learnt that there were about 40 deaths every year due to accidents and other causes associated with the shipbreaking activities.

The Alang Shipbreaking Yards in Gujrat are plots on the Alang beach assigned to plot holders who purchase ships for breaking, then have them piloted to the Gujarat coast. The difference between low and high tide in this area is more than 10 metres which makes it ideal terrein for beaching and dismantling operations.
House-keeping in the shipbreaking industry is fairly poor or non-existent. Everywhere the beach is strewn with debris and litter from broken ships including non-biodegradable thermocole, and asbestos.

The beach has retained a permanent dark stain due to continuous exposure to oily wastes.

PVC bags bloated with oil sludges taken from the ship prior to its dismantling. Many of the bags had burst their contents onto the sand. Yet HPC was continually assured the oil was "carefully" removed from ships before they were broken.

More than 90 per cent of the material is steel, less than 1% is considered hazardous waste. Yet, even this 1% is not handled as per the laws and guidelines on shipbreaking in force. The graveyard of ships may eventually become a graveyard of the environment as well.

Open fires on the beach used to eliminate hazardous wastes like asbestos, thermocole, glass wool and other unwanted debris. This practice must be absolutely abandoned as it is a source of dangerous air pollutants as well.

There is no established or regulated procedure for breaking the ship. The shipbreaking operation is undertaken based on the type of ship and past experience. Before the breaking operation, the following steps are taken: The Ship Captain issues a certificate declaring that the ship can be beached. After arrival, the ship is checked by the Customs which issues a certificate after checking the items (87 Nos.) for cargo free clearance. After this, the GMB gives the beaching permission. The clearance, however, does not reflect the presence of hazardous waste and radioactive substances on the ship. (This deficiency must be corrected if the HW Rules, 1989, are to be implemented.) Full information on the type and quantity of hazardous wastes and radioactive materials, if any, must be provided before any ship is allowed to be broken.

Although data on various recyclable materials (mostly steel) and wastes are available, the quantity and type of wastes and recyclable material will vary with the size and type of each vessel, i.e. cargo-ship, warship or oil/bulk carrier.

The HPC saw unauthorised disposal of wastes at a number of plots. Waste material, including asbestos and glass wool, were found in piles of burning debris on the beach. This is in violation of the CRZ notification.

A number of unauthorised units are also engaged in the shipbreaking operation.

House-keeping is, on the whole, poor. The beach area within 100 metres of the High Tide Line has been completely contaminated with debris and waste oil.

There is little doubt that the activity is hazardous to the health of the workers. Firstly, considerable quantities (~ 5 tonnes per ship) of asbestos are generated during the dismantling of every vessel. The production and handling of asbestos is banned in most of the advanced countries; and the import of asbestos waste into India is banned under the Basel Convention. The import of asbestos waste was banned by the Government of India in 1998. It is understood that the new generation of ships being produced in Japan and Europe may not use asbestos any more for air-conditioning or insulation, and hence the asbestos problem may be of a transitional nature. But, during the interim period, it is essential that any workers handling this material must be fully protected; and that both their work and health be monitored.

Another matter to consider is the large incidence of industrial accidents that occur every year. That workers die or often suffer severe injuries during operations was not denied by the shipbreaking contractors. An average of upto 40 deaths have been reported every year. Such large-scale fatalities are unacceptable. Steps must be taken to ensure better safety standards in the industry. Full accountability and heavy penalties to the industry in case of death or disability, and compensation to the injured worker must go hand in hand to ensure that safe practices are introduced and complied with. In addition, widespread burning activities in which hazardous wastes are involved, and which generate considerable air pollution, are bound to have a deleterious impact on workers’ health.

Finally, the port authorities must be vigilant regarding the possibility of ships that have been used for carrying toxic or radioactive wastes coming in for breakage. Vigilance in this matter calls for upgraded laboratory facilities for analysis, radiation monitoring equipment, and well-trained staff. As the Alang Shipbreaking Yard is intended to be a major activity and facility, it should be equipped with analytical capabilities which would enable it to carry out the first level of inspections relating to radioactive, toxic and other hazardous materials.

The HPC is of the opinion that if the shipbreaking activities at Alang are to be continued, the facilities must be modernised with proper control measures. On the negative side, serious consideration needs to be given to the major environmental problems associated with the activity, and these need to be addressed if the shipbreaking industry is to be encouraged to grow, or even to continue.

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