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Shipbreaking on the South Asia Beaches Report


Shipbreaking refers to a method of disposing ships that involves the demolition of vessels into small pieces that are thereafter recycled (Galley 2014). Ships usually last for several decades before they wear out. Demolition is more economical than repair in cases where the vessels are highly damaged or worn out. Shipbreaking facilitates the recycling of steel and other components used to manufacture the vessels. Currently, South Asia is the centre for Shipbreaking and recycling. Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India are famous for these activities. The three countries account for approximately 80% of the world’s shipbreaking activities (Galley 2014).

Shipbreaking has been criticised because of its many adverse health and environmental effects. It results in massive pollution, abuse of labour rights, and accidents that result in injuries and other fatalities. Shipbreaking is widespread in South Asia because many maritime companies avoid the costs associated with proper ship disposal. By selling their ships to breaking yards, maritime companies save money and other valuable resources. In addition, the surge in shipbreaking has resulted from legislation that supports such activities. For instance, taxation on ship demolition was lowered from 15% to 10% (Galley 2014).

Shipbreaking in South Asia

The claims by Patrizia Heidegger, the executive director of NGO Shipbreaking Platform that Shipbreaking causes pollution and accidents are true. South Asia is the largest Shipbreaking destination in the world that is responsible for approximately 80% of all related activities. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are the main shipbreaking centres in the region. Breaking yards use parts from the recycled ships to manufacture steel that is used in several industries for construction purposes. The main reason for the surge in shipbreaking activities in South Asia is the availability of cheap labour due to the high population in the region and lax laws (Galley 2014).

Many countries especially in Europe transport their ships to South Asia or recycling. In addition, the region has low compliance costs due to lax laws that encourage such activities. In the past few years, the industry has been subjected to criticism because of the environmental destruction and health hazards associated with it. Environmental experts describe the industry as a haven for pollution, which affects both ecosystems and human lives in various ways. In particular, workers suffer the most mainly due to injuries that they sustain. Enforcement of law is ineffective because laws to regulate the industry are weak. The main consequences of the industry include accidents, violation f human rights, injuries, and environmental pollution.


The largest shipbreaking yard in India is located at Alang in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat (Galley 2014). The yard is famous because of its geographical and climatic characteristics. It was established in 1983 and has grown over the years to become a major shipbreaking location in South Asia. The yard releases large amounts of dangerous pollutants that include used oil, poly-chlorinated biphenyls, heavy metals, and chemical waste (Galley 2014).

The pollutants are released into water bodies thus causing pollution. Before a ship is demolished, any unused oil is removed. The oil that remains is then cleared using sand that is afterwards thrown into the sea. These activities result in the build-up of oil and grease in the coastal waters. The pollutants choke marine life and destroy ecosystems (Galley 2014). Environmental experts are urging the Indian government to enact legislation that will require ship companies to decontaminate their vessels before hauling to breaking yards for demolition. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, more than 45 tonnes of solid waste are dumped on the shores of the sea. Workers live within the precincts of the yard and release organic loads into the sea. Their living conditions are poor because they lack access to proper sanitation, which contributes to high levels of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) (Galley 2014).

Accidents are also a common occurrence at the yard. According to a report released by the Gujarat Maritime Board, more than 230 deaths have been reported between the years 2001 and 2011 (Galley 2014). These deaths were caused by fires and explosions. In June 28 2014, five workers were killed at Alang after a gas explosion. A report released by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in 2013 revealed that workers at Alang are subjected to poor living conditions, poor safety standards, and unfavourable working conditions (Galley 2014). There is poor enforcement of safety regulations, which promotes the occurrence of accidents.

Moreover, the yard has inadequate health facilities to taken care of the workers’ welfare. For instance, the location has only two health facilities that lack emergency services. Injured workers rely on government ambulances for assistance. Between 1983 and 2013, the yard reported 470 deaths from various causes such as fires (Galley 2014).

141 deadly accidents were reported between 2001 and 2013 (Galley 2014). Finally, reports have been released detailing the death of cattle after consuming toxic waste from the yard. In addition, cases of people who have suffered respiratory and skin problems due to fumes from the combustion of toxic waste have been reported. Water in the surrounding villages is usually saline and unfit for human consumption (Galley 2014). Toxic wastes from the yard have led to the abandonment of wells in nearby villages due to extensive pollution.


Pakistan is home to the third largest shipbreaking yard in the world. The Gadani shipbreaking yard has more than a hundred demolition plots and employs approximately 6,000 workers. In the 1980s, it was the largest yard but was later overtaken by Alang and Chittagong yards. The yard experienced a surge in activity after tax reductions in 2001. The government lowered shipbreaking duties from 15% to 10% thus increasing activity in ship demolition yards. In addition, it offered other incentives that contributed towards the growth of the industry in the past decade. Accidents are usually caused by toxic gas explosions and heavy metals (Tanoli 2012).

The non-skilled workers who work at the yard are usually illiterate and therefore unaware of safety standards and the health effects of toxic chemicals (Tanoli 2012). In addition, many work without prior training on proper handling of metals and toxic chemicals. Abuse of human rights has been reported in numerous cases. Employers hire workers without formal employment contracts and as a result, workers are treated unfairly and subjected to unfavourable working conditions (Tanoli 2012).

In addition, the employers hire children and underpay them. It is unethical and illegal to subject children to dangerous working conditions. The workers are denied their rights and are frequently threatened by their supervisors whenever they ask for better working conditions. Workers perform their duties without protective equipment such as helmets and gloves (Tanoli 2012).

The workers are exploited because they make a lot of money for the employer but work under poor conditions. For instance, they are not provided with clean drinking water. The government is lenient on enforcing regulatory laws because the shipbreaking industry employs thousands of people and brings in millions in revenue. Accidents are not as common as in Alang. 5 deaths and 13 injuries were reported in the year 2012 due to lack of protective equipment and health facilities (Tanoli 2012). In 2012, several deaths and injuries were reported.


Chittagong Ship breaking Yard is the largest ship demolition yard in Bangladesh that employs more than 200,000 people (Galley 2014). At one time in its history, the yard was visited as a tourist attraction. However, this ceased after numerous cases of accidents were reported at the location. In addition, its reputation for poor safety led to its termination as a tourist attraction. Poor safety standards are the result of numerous accidents and deaths that have been reported at the yard over the years (Galley 2014).

For instance, workers do not wear protective equipment. In October 16 2012, 4 workers died after inhaling toxic gases. The vessels that are brought in for demolition usually contain asbestos or dangerous gases that have adverse health effects on workers. Shipbreaking yards facilitate the deaths of workers because they accept old ships that contain toxic gases that predispose their workers to health hazards. Report released y the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) revealed that since 2006, the yard has reported more than 80 deaths and numerous injuries (Galley 2014). The deaths were caused mainly by explosions. In 2012, a worker died after falling from a ship and another died after being crushed by a ship’s hydraulic door. These deaths were facilitated by lack of protective equipment and lack of proper medical facilities within the shipbreaking yard (Puthucherril 2010).

Current law of ship recycling

The regulatory framework for shipbreaking in the European Union (EU) is based on few laws that have so far been ineffective in regulating the industry. The latest regulation to be enacted by the EU will become operation between the years 2016 and 2019. This regulation will create new rules that member states will be required to follow. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is the major legislation that regulates the shipbreaking industry (Puthucherril 2010).

Its key principle is the minimisation of the transportation of hazardous materials between countries. The regulation applied to old ships because they contain hazardous materials such as asbestos, lead, and other heavy metals. In that regard, the ship companies that transport their old ships to South Asia breach the convention. In 1995, EU member states amended the Convention to include a clause that illegalized the transport of wastes for recycling and recovery purposes to developing countries (Puthucherril 2010).

The new amendment was included in the Waste Shipment Regulation. The Basel Convention describes the unlawful transport of hazardous waste to other countries as criminal. Therefore, it is the most effective legislation that can be used to protect workers and the environment against the accidents and deaths encountered in the shipbreaking industry. However, ship companies use several ways to circumvent the legislation. For instance, they usually designate their ships for recycle after docking in the demolition yard or while navigating international waters in order to avoid the restrictions of the Convention (Engels 2013).

A new legislation known as the International Convention for Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was created in 2005 (Puthucherril 2010). The aim of the legislation is to lower the risks to human health and the environment that the shipbreaking industry poses. According to the Convention, ships should have updated records of the hazardous materials they carry. The law is weak because it does not provide a framework that identifies the most effective ship-recycling method. In addition, it does not lay down a strategy to punish those who breach it. The ineffectiveness of the two conventions led to the creation of the European Ship Recycling Regulation in 2013. The legislation contains several requirements that all marine vessels with EU Member State flags should adhere to. In addition, vessels docking at EU ports are required to follow the rules. The vessels that abide by this legislation are exempt from the influence of the Waste Shipment Regulation (EC) 1013/2006.

This implies that ship companies have a legal loophole to breach international obligations. The European Union aims to streamline the process of recycling ships in order to regulate the demolition of ships and thus reduce environmental pollution and accidents. Its regulations usually target developing countries that are the target of developed countries with regard to dumping old ship that contain hazardous materials. According to the convention, all European ships must have records of the hazardous materials they carry and should also possess certificates that indicate their fulfilment of recycling requirements (Engels 2013).

The ships are supposed to be recycled in yards that are approved by the EU. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform and the European Environmental Bureau were opposed to the convention because it lacked financial incentives that are important for the streamlining of the ship recycling regulation (Engels 2013). The legislation has another weakness in that it does not address re-flagging issues. Many companies register their vessels to non-EU flags during their last journeys in order to circumvent certain regulations (Richardson 2003). Present legislation does not address the issue of using flags of convenience to circumvent certain regulations. This creates legal loopholes that ship companies use to transport their old ships to developing countries for recycling (Richardson 2003). Many ship owners transport their ships to South Asia because the region is famous for high steel prices and low labour costs. Other ship owners register their vessels in countries that have lax regulations (Richardson 2003).

The Waste Shipment Regulation (WSR) implements several laws that regulate the ship recycling industry. For instance, it executes the Basel Ban Amendment and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which describe the transportation of hazardous materials as illegal (Engels 2013). Despite the existence of these laws, ship owners still transport their ships to South Asia. They circumvent the regulation by declining to inform their states that they wish to recycle their ships. They sell the ships to demolition yards once they dock in their ports. Current legislation lacks proper enforcement mechanisms that could address the problem sufficiently. The aforementioned legislation contains numerous legal loopholes that enable ship owners to transport their ships to South Asia and therefore avoid recycling costs (Engels 2013). Ship owners capitalize on loopholes to sell their old vessels to recycling yards in developing countries.

The validity of Patrizia Heidegger’s statement

The foregoing discussion has validated Heidegger’s statement that shipbreaking in South Asia results in pollution, abuse of labour rights, and accidents among workers. Several accidents and deaths have been reported in the major shipbreaking yards in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The fatalities result from explosions, inhalation of toxic gases, accidents, and lack of proper medical facilities. There is widespread abuse of labour rights because workers are hired without employment contracts and insurance policies. An insurance policy is an important aspect of employment because it insures the employee in case they get an accident. Employers reduce costs and maximize revenues by avoiding contracts and insurance. Employees work in uncertainty because they can be fired at any moment due to lack of employment contacts.

Moreover, they work under unfavourable working conditions without protective equipment such as helmets and gloves. The waste materials from shipbreaking yards are released into the sea where they cause destruction of marine life and ecosystems. In addition, cattle in surrounding villages die after consuming toxic waste from the yards. Many wells have been abandoned due to extensive pollution. Existing laws to regulate the shipbreaking industry are ineffective and weak. Ship owners take advantage of legal loopholes to sell their ships to yards in South Asia in order to avoid recycling costs. The various conventions that have been created have proven ineffective and limited in their scope.

Ship owners either register their vessels with non-EU flags or decline to report to their state ports that their vessels are ready for recycling. There are several methods that ship owners use to circumvent the various regulations that exist to stop the transportation of hazardous materials to developing countries. Heidegger’s statement is valid and reflects the severe situation of the shipbreaking yards in the beaches of South Asia. Concerned governments need to act fast in order to address the issue appropriately.


In the past ten years, the shipbreaking industry has grown significantly especially in developing countries such as India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The beaches of south Asia are famous for shipbreaking yards that employ thousands of workers. The yards have been severally accused of polluting the environment, promoting abuses of labour rights, and causing accident and fatalities among workers. Many yards lack proper safety measures that are required by law. Many governments are lenient on the shipbreaking industry players because of the critical role the industry plays in economic development through revenues and creation of employment.

The EU has several laws that aim to address the problem of pollution and worker fatalities caused by shipbreaking. However, the laws are ineffective because of their limited scope. They contain numerous legal loopholes that ship owners use to see their ships to yards in South Asia. For instance, they lack financial incentives to dares the high costs of recycling ships. High costs of recycling are the main reasons why ship owners transport old ships containing hazardous materials to developing counties. Developing countries have low labour costs and lax execution of recycling laws. Shipbreaking yards on the beaches of South Asia are havens for environmental pollution, accidents, and abuse of labour rights. The EU needs to create more stringent laws that eradicate the legal loopholes that are present in current regulations.


Engels, U. D 2013, European Ship Recycling Regulation: Entry-into-Force Implications of the Hong Kong Convention, Springer Science & Business Media, New York. Web.

Galley, M 2014, Shipbreaking: Hazards and Liabilities, Springer, New York. Web.

Puthucherril, T. G 2010, From Shipbreaking to Sustainable Ship recycling: Evolution of a Legal Regime, Brill, London. Web.

Richardson, M 2003, . Web.

Tanoli, Q 2012, Fatal Accidents on the Rise at Gadani Ship-Breaking Yard. Web.

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1. IvyPanda. "Shipbreaking on the South Asia Beaches." June 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/shipbreaking-on-the-south-asia-beaches/.


IvyPanda. "Shipbreaking on the South Asia Beaches." June 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/shipbreaking-on-the-south-asia-beaches/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Shipbreaking on the South Asia Beaches." June 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/shipbreaking-on-the-south-asia-beaches/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Shipbreaking on the South Asia Beaches'. 9 June.

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