A cargo ship containing tons of toxic waste is reported by environmental groups to be on its way towards the shores of India for dismantling.
According to Gopal Krishna, from the environmental group Toxic Watch Alliance, the 31,000 metric ton Gulf Jash has entered the Indian Ocean after being rejected by Vietnam and Bangladesh and is now heading towards a port in the western state of Gujarat. Gujarat government officials are waiting for official reports to be issued before taking any action against the incoming ship.
Previously known as the Probo Koala, the Gulf Jash contains hazardous substances, such as asbestos, waste polychlorintated biphenyls (PCBs), and chemical and fuel residues.
The ship, which was built in 1989, has a controversial past. In 2006, 16 people died after the Probo Koala dumped toxic waste into the coastlines of the Ivory Coast. According to authorities, the ship illegally dumped 528 tons of toxic waste in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s largest city. Trafigura, who owned the ship at the time, settled court cases and payed the families of the victims £30 million ($49 million) and £100 million ($164 million) to the Ivory Coast government for clean up expenses. Trafigura, however, never officially accepted any blame for the incident. Afterward, Trafigura sold the ship to U.S. Based Global Marketing Systems (GMS), who is the current owner of the ship.
Although importing ships containing toxic materials is banned in many countries, laws and regulations pertaining to ship dismantling are not strictly enforced. This allows ship owners to sell their ships to be dismantled to unethical contractors and tens thousands of workers.
India is home to one of the world’s largest industries for ship dismantling. In 2006, the Clemenceau, a French ship, was headed towards India. Carrying 500 metric tons of asbestos, the Supreme Court banned this ship from being dismantled in India. However, in the same year, another ship named the Blue Lady was brought to Indian shores. It carried 1240 metric tons of asbestos and radioactive material and was permitted to be broken down at Alang, Gujarat.
In 2009, the US ship, Platinum II, was on its way towards Alang Yard in India when the Environmental Ministry intervened and rejected the ship. The Platinum II contained 200 metric tons of asbestos and toxic waste and it was claimed that the ship produced falsified papers to elude regulations on toxic waste.
Prominently done on the coasts of less developed Southern Asian countries, ship dismantling is a very polluting and dangerous business. Due to the political and economic influence the ship dismantling industry has, governments are slow to take action and, in some cases, have reversed rulings that favor the benefit of the environment. For instance, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform and Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) have petitioned to the government to ban the import of toxic ships and to order that safer methods of dismantling ships be implemented. The court decided in their favor but afterward, lifted their decision due to pressure from ship dismantling and shipping industries.
The methods used for dismantling ships are also loosely regulated. Workers typically work with little or no protection and use nothing more than their bare hands and a cutting torch. Using these torches can be very dangerous as it can ignite gases or fuels and cause an explosion. Workers can develop health problems due to the heavy exposure to the pollution produced during dismantling. Also, dismantling occurs on beaches and coastlines, allowing waste and foreign materials to contaminate the ocean.
Experts agree ship dismantling will continue to endanger lives and the environment because laws are too lenient or not strictly enforced. Until new measures are taken, such as developing environmentally conscious methods and facilities for dismantling ships or ordering the originating country to be responsible for dismantling the ships themselves, India and other countries well known for their ship dismantling industries will remain a dumping ground for these toxic vessels.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/naq/2337694175/