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Alarmed UN in ship-break meet

Calcutta, July 8: Alarmed at the way developed nations are dumping toxic wastes while getting ships dismantled, the United Nations Maritime Organisation has called a meeting in London in mid-July to discuss the problem.

It has come to the organisation’s attention that European nations are getting ships dismantled in India, where the world’s largest ship-breaking industry has flourished for the last two decades.

Ship-breaking is a criminal offence according to the Basel Convention.

Dismantling of ships could push India to the brink of environmental disaster, but despite this, nearly all the world’s ship-breaking activity takes place in the subcontinent, where regulations are lax.

More than 80 per cent of ship-breaking activity takes place at Alang in Gujarat where 178 yards have been set up. Around 400 ships can be broken annually at Alang.

Another 40 to 50 ships are dismantled annually in Mumbai and Calcutta.

The ships that head to Gujarat, Mumbai and Calcutta are themselves environmental hazards and carry a large volume of toxic wastes and non bio-degradable products like asbestos, plastics, toxic paints and polychlorinated biphenyles.

Alarmed at the situation, the UN maritime organisation, which monitors marine movement, will discuss the matter in London at the three-day meeting starting on July 14. The Indian case will be presented by Greenpeace, which is building up awareness about the perils of ship-breaking.

Joining Greenpeace will be non-governmental organisations and leading environmental activists like Medha Patkar.

Greenpeace campaigner Ramapati Kumar says the European Commission’s recent decision to phase out all single-hull ships because of safety reasons could cause havoc in India.

“At least 4,000 single-hull ships in various oceans are to be scrapped in the next couple of years. This may bring a huge bonanza to some ship-breaking companies in India, but this will push the entire country to the brink of environmental disaster,” he adds.

At present, aged ships are dismantled for scrap and then sent to steel re-rolling mills for re-use as raw material for production of steel. With steel prices rising globally, ship-breaking has received a windfall as a number of tankers, dry and general cargo vessels wait to anchor in western India.

The availability of a large number of single-hull ships could encourage others in India to jump on the ship-breaking bandwagon.

At Alang alone, 2.8 million tonnes of scrap were made available from 333 ships in 2002 as against 1.9 million tonnes the previous year from 295 ships. Conservative estimates suggest more than three million tonnes of scrap will be produced in the current fiscal year.

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