Press Release – Documentary reveals SBM’s toxic trade of ships in Alang

Dutch program Zembla recently released their investigation on SBM Offshore’s shipbreaking practices in South Asia. In a documentary shown on Dutch television, and now available on YouTube, Zembla reconstructs the last voyage and scrapping of the mercury-laden tanker YETAGUN, owned by the Dutch oil and gas multinational. 


Experts contracted by SBM Offshore warned the company about the high toxicity of the ship and that workers could inhale extremely dangerous mercury fumes during demolition, leading to lasting neurological damage or even death. E-mails and confidential documents obtained by Zembla show that SBM Offshore attempted to conceal the high concentration of mercury in the ship’s steel [1], in order to avoid clean-up costs. The gas tanker was sold for breaking to Hooghly Shipbreakers Ltd, a beaching yard in Alang, India [2].


The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Zero Mercury Group had warned Indian authorities of the breach of international waste laws, and urged India to halt the import of the contaminated ship. Despite an initial rejection, the permission to import the vessel was eventually given. The circumstances under which the beaching and breaking of the vessel were allowed are still unclear, but documents obtained by the Platform show that the Indian authorities admitted lacking capacity to detect mercury contamination beyond the slops.


In their statements to Zembla, SBM Offshore and Hooghly Shipbreakers maintain that the demolition was carried out in a safe way, and hold forth a so-called Statement of Compliance with the Hong Kong Convention and inspection report - both issued by Japanese classification society ClassNK - as evidence. However, undercover recordings and discussions with several workers that dismantled the YETAGUN reveal a shocking account of the actual conditions at the beaching yard. Workers are not provided with appropriate personal protective equipment and were completely unaware of the poisonous mercury contamination. Several stated that full safety gear is distributed only when inspections take place. Toxicologists that have reviewed the documents obtained by Zembla say it is impossible that no high levels of mercury were detected during cutting operations, as claimed by ClassNK.


It is not the first time that journalists visiting Indian shipbreaking yards unannounced and undercover document a reality that starkly contrasts with the industry efforts to greenwash beaching. In 2016, DanWatch revealed dire conditions at a yard Maersk, and ClassNK, had approved. Recently, also French TV brought back a similar account of Alang.


"We call upon Dutch and Indian authorities to further investigate the offence that has been committed. In the Netherlands, SBM Offshore risks prison sentence and heavy fines for having intentionally and unlawfully exposed workers to extremely toxic substances. In India, authorities cannot remain inactive towards an industry that clearly does not follow national laws on occupational health and safety and environmental protection."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform




[1] The YETAGUN operated in a gas field in Myanmar for years. Mercury is a naturally occurring element present in virtually all oil and gas fields. Concentrations are especially high in the South American and East Asian region. Mercury can contaminate the structure of offshore units and ballast waters.


[2] Hooghly Shipbreakers shares the same ownership with Priya Blue yard, which has recently been under the spotlight for a fatal accident. According to a local whistle-blower, the cash buyer involved in the sale of the YETAGUN was Best Oasis, a wholly owned subsidiary of Priya Blue Industries. It is not the first time SBM sells its old vessels to yards located on the dirty and dangerous beaches of South Asia. The FPSOs MARLIM SUL and FALCON ended up in Alang in 2017 and 2016 respectively. The STAR OLBA was scrapped in Chattogram, Bangladesh in 2015. 

Press Release – NGOs release new report on North Sea oil and gas recycling

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform released today a research report titled “Recycling Outlook: Decommissioning of North Sea Floating Oil & Gas Units” during a seminar held in Oslo, Norway.


With the oil and gas sector seeing a downturn since 2014, the Platform has documented an increasing number of offshore units sold for scrap. While the recycling of fixed installations occurs under strict regulations, there are serious concerns regarding the recycling of floating structures, which classify as vessels. Around 200 floating structures have been identified as scrapped globally since 2015 – an estimated 40% of these assets ended up on South Asian beaches, where they were broken up under conditions that cause irreparable damage to the coastal environment and put workers’ lives and health at risk.


Numerous  floating platforms and oil and gas structures can be found in the North Sea, where the global oversupply in the rig-market is pushing the oldest assets to be scrapped. There are currently 59 floating mobile drilling rigs in the North Sea, 18 of which were built before 2001. Whilst some of the older units might be converted/upgraded, it is estimated that most of them will be scrapped in the coming years. So far, the only structure which operated in the North Sea and has been traced to a South Asian beaching yard is the FPSO North Sea Producer. There is a real risk, however, that we will see more of these cases coming up in the near future with more decommissioning projects in the North Sea.


The NGO Shipbreaking Platform advocates for the use of green recycling capacity already existing in the region. Indeed, North Sea recycling yards have years of experience decommissioning fixed oil and gas structures. There are several dry docks and contained slipway facilities where the dismantling of  floating structures can take place safely and with due regard for labour and environmental concerns. Ehancing the recycling of offshore structures and ships in Europe would furthermore bring opportunities for the many workers that were laid off  after the recession in the oil and gas sector in 2014.


The report was published with the support of Norwegian pension fund KLP. KLP promotes, as an essential part of its responsibility, practices of corporate responsibility and responsible investment. As a large investor in Norwegian companies, and companies based outside of Norway operating in the North Sea, it strives to ensure the responsible recycling of ships and offshore assets, aiming at contributing to a shift towards better practices in the sector.

Photos from KLP's seminar "Responsible disposal of ships and rigs" - © Cato Gustavson/KLP

Platform News – Norwegian pension funds turn their attention towards Indian shipbreaking practices

Last week the Council on Ethics of the Norwegian oil pension fund (Government Pension Fund Global) announced that it will turn its attention towards Indian shipbreaking practices. This may well result in further divestments from shipping companies with poor shipbreaking records. 


ivest from companies, including container line Evergreen, selling their end-of-life vessels to shipbreaking yards located in Pakistan and Bangladesh due to an unacceptable risk that the companies are contributing to serious environmental damage and gross violations of human rights”. 


KLP, Norway’s largest private pension fund, followed suit and blacklisted the same companies. In January, KLP also blacklisted Nordic American Tankers (NAT) following the sale of ten oil tankers for dirty and dangerous scrapping on beaching yards in South Asia. The Bermuda-registered company, controlled from Norway by Herbjørn Hanson, was firstly confronted by KLP and criticised by Norwegian press for having sold eight ships for scrapping to South Asia in 2018, ensuring NAT a 80 million dollar scrapping revenue. Five vessels ended up in Chittagong, Bangladesh; three ended up in Alang, India. The sale of two additional vessels to Bangladeshi yards with terrible accident records prompted KLP to blacklist NAT earlier this year.

"KLP’s goal is that no ship ends up on a beach where irresponsible scrapping practices take place. It is the ship owners’ responsibility to identify which standards, routines and processes they need to comply with to ensure safe and responsible ship recycling."
Håvard Gulbrandsen - CEO - KLP

The European Commission recently announced that two Indian yards (i.e. Priya Blue Industries Pvt. Ltd, Shree Ram Vessel Scrap Pvt. Ltd) that applied for inclusion in the European List of ship recycling facilities do not comply with the EU Ship Recycling Regulation. The site inspections and technical assessments, done by the classification society DNV GL, identified several areas where the yards do not meet the requirements for clean and safe ship recycling.  



Press Release – Platform publishes list of ships dismantled worldwide in 2018

Record-breaking 90% of end-of-life tonnage scrapped on South Asian beaches


According to new data released today by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, 744 large ocean-going commercial vessels were sold to the scrap yards in 2018. Of these vessels, 518 were broken down on tidal mudflats in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, amounting to a record-breaking 90,4% of the gross tonnage dismantled globally. 

"The figures of 2018 are shocking. No ship owner can claim to be unaware of the dire conditions at the beaching yards, still they massively continue to sell their vessels to the worst yards to get the highest price for their ships. The harm caused by beaching is real. Workers risk their lives, suffer from exposure to toxics, and coastal ecosystems are devastated. Ship owners have a responsibility to sell to recycling yards that invest in their workers and environment."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Last year, at least 35 workers lost their lives when breaking apart the global fleet. The Platform documented at least 14 workers that died in Alang, making 2018 one of one of the worse years for Indian yards in terms of accident records in the last decade. Another 20 workers died and 12 workers were severely injured in the Bangladeshi yards. In Pakistan, local sources confirmed 1 death and 27 injuries. Seven injuries were linked to yet another fire that broke out on-board a beached tanker. 


DUMPERS 2018 – Worst practices


UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, GREECE and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA top the list of country dumpers in 2018. UAE owners were responsible for the highest absolute number of ships sold to South Asian shipbreaking yards in 2018: there were 61 ships in total. Greek owners, beached 57 vessels out of a total of 66 sold for demolition. American owners closely followed with 53 end-of-life vessels broken up on South Asian tidal mudflats. 


The ‘worst corporate dumper’ prize goes to the South Korean liner Sinokor Merchant Marine. The company, which has been loss-making and is about to merge its container operations with Heung-A, sold 11 ships for breaking on the beaches in 2018: eight vessels ended up in Bangladesh and three in India, where in April, during the demolition of Sinokor’s PLATA GLORY at Leela Ship Recycling Yard [1], a worker died hit by a falling iron plate. 


Norwegian Nordic American Tankers (NAT) - incorporated in Bermuda and stock-listed in New York - is runner-up for the ‘worst dumper’ prize. Last year, NAT reported having earned USD 80 million for the sale of eight vessels for breaking. Three were sold to Alang for breaking and five were sold to breakers in Chittagong. According to local sources in Bangladesh, the cutting operations of these ships started without required government authorisations. The sale of two additional vessels to yards in Bangladesh with particularly poor track records and where two workers were killed in 2018, prompted Norwegian pension fund KLP to blacklist the company. 


Seven vessels were sold to beaching yards for dirty and dangerous scrapping by German owner Dr Peters GmbH & Co KG. According to local sources, fitter Md Samiul lost his life while scrapping Dr Peters’ DS WARRIOR in December 2018.


Other known shipping companies that in 2018 sold their vessels for the highest price to the worst breaking yards include: Chevron, Costamare, H-Line, Louis plc, Seabulk, SOVCOMFLOT, Teekay, Zodiac Group and CMB. Belgian CMB is still under investigation for the export of the MINERAL WATER to Bangladesh in 2016.

With the oil and gas sector seeing a downturn in the last couple of years, the Platform has documented an increase in offshore units that have gone for scrap. Out of the 138 oil and gas units which have been identified as demolished in 2018 alone, 96 ended up on the beaches of South Asia. Figures include 81 small-sized tug/supply ships and 33 semi-submersible platforms. Noble Corp, ENSCO, Tidewater, Diamond Offshore and Petrobras are amongst the biggest offshore players that dump their assets on the South Asian beaches. While most assets were exported from either East Asia or America, Diamond Offshore and cash buyer GMS are under investigation in Scotland for having attempted to illegally export three platforms that had operated in the North Sea and were cold-stacked in Cromarty Firth. The platforms have been under arrest in Scotland since January 2018.


Ship owners are facing increased pressure from investors and credit providers to stop selling their ships to beaching yards. In early 2018, Scandinavian pension funds KLP and GPFG were the first to divest from four shipping companies due to their beaching practices. Today, banks, pension funds and other financial institutions are actively taking a closer look at how they might contribute to a shift towards better ship recycling practices off the beach, taking into account social and environmental criteria, not just financial returns, when selecting asset values or clients.


Losing financing and clients, however, should not be the only concern of ship owners who continue to use dirty and dangerous scrap yards. In 2018, and for the first time ever, a ship owner was held criminally liable for having illegally traded four end-of-life ships to Indian beaching yards. Several other cases of illegal traffic are under investigation. These cases focus not only on the liability of the ship owner, but also on the responsibility of insurers, brokers and maritime warranty surveyors. By unravelling the murky practices of shipbreaking, which involve the use of middle men, or cash buyers, and flags of convenience such as Comoros, Palau and St. Kitts & Nevis, these cases highlight the importance of conducting due diligence when choosing business partners.

"Clean and safe solutions are already available. Responsible ship owners, such as Dutch Boskalis, German Hapag Lloyd, and Scandinavian companies Wallenius-Wilhelmsen and Grieg, recycle their vessels off the beach. The EU maintains a list of clean and safe ship recycling facilities [2]. More ships need to be diverted towards these sites."
Nicola Mulinaris - Communication and Policy Officer - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

For the list of all ships dismantled worldwide in 2018, click here. *

For detailed figures and analysis on ships dismantled in 2018, click here.*


* The data gathered by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform is sourced from different outlets and stakeholders, and is cross-checked whenever possible. The data upon which this information is based is correct to the best of the Platform’s knowledge, and the Platform takes no responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided. The Platform will correct or complete data if any inaccuracy is signaled. All data which has been provided is publicly available and does not reveal any confidential business information.





[1] The Plata Glory was beached in December 2017 at Leela Ship Recycling yard. Leela holds a so-called Statement of Compliance with the Hong Kong Convention issued by ClassNK and claims to be offering “green recycling”.   


[2] The EU has published a list of ship recycling facilities around the world that comply with high standards for environmental protection and workers’ safety. The EU list of approved ship recycling facilities is the first of its kind and an important reference point for sustainable ship recycling. 


Press Release – The hypocrisy of better beaches: winners of the “Public Eye Investigation Award” shed light on shipbreaking in Alang and Swiss companies’ involvement

Belgian journalist Gie Goris, Editor in Chief of MO* Magazine, and Nicola Mulinaris, Communication and Policy Officer of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, received Public Eye’s first ever “Investigation Award” for their research on the shipbreaking business.


Gie Goris looked for signs of Swiss shipping companies in the Indian town of Alang, where ships go to die. There, he saw many middle-aged wrecks, and met angry trade unionists and workers deprived of their rights and risking their health on a daily basis for a meagre wage. Swiss ship owners, including container giant MSC, use the Alang beach to dispose of their floating toxic waste while boosting their profits. The “recycling” methods of the Geneva-based company MSC, which recently attracted critical headlines for the damage its containers caused in the North Sea, show the vast rift between sustainability promises and the reality of the Swiss shipping industry’s business practices. 


Nicola Mulinaris supported Goris in shedding light on the political context behind the illegal trade of toxic waste and showing the important, but ignominious, role played by landlocked Switzerland in dealing with end-of-life ships.

This story, which was published yesterday also by Public Eye, is just an extract of a bigger investigation. The full report "Behind the Hypocrisy of Better Beaches" takes a closer look at industry attempts to greenwash beaching and the lobbying for double standards by embedded policymakers in Europe.

"With this investigation we expose how vested interests have become greenwashing champions to derail and delay real progress."
Nicola Mulinaris - Communication and Policy Officer - NGO Shipbreaking Platform


Set up to celebrate Public Eye’s 50th anniversary in 2018, the “Investigation Award” honoured and funded journalistic research into human rights violations, environmental offences or other irresponsible practices of Swiss companies in developing or emerging countries. A jury comprised of renowned media professionals and Public Eye staff selected two projects [1] from a shortlist of 55.


Yesterday, the two investigations were presented to the public in Zurich, during an event held at Kosmos. A panel debate on the relationship between media and NGOs followed the authors’ presentations.






[1] “The Blazing Success of Swiss Cigarettes in Africa” is the other project that won the "Public Eye Investigation Award". Lausanne-based reporter Marie Maurisse examined the secret recipes that Swiss tobacco companies use for cigarettes earmarked for export to Africa, in particular to Morocco. In 2017 alone, 2,900 tonnes – or 3,625 cigarettes – were exported to the country. Tests undertaken exclusively for her research revealed a scandalous double standard: cigarettes produced by Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) in Switzerland and sold in Morocco contained markedly higher levels of particles, nicotine and carbon monoxide than those produced for the domestic market. In contrast to the laws in the EU, Swiss legislation allows tobacco companies registered in the country – clearly not by coincidence – to produce and export products that are significantly more harmful and addictive than those sold in Switzerland. According to the WHO, the number of smoking-related deaths in Africa will double by 2030 (with help from Switzerland).



Where ships go to die – Winner of the Public Eye Investigation Award

Where ships go to die

Switzerland and the uncontrolled dismantling of ships

Decommissioned deep-sea vessels are floating toxic waste. Their disposal is laborious and costly, and regarded as a menace by those who want to protect both the workers and the environment. The more unscrupulous companies have their ships scrapped on South Asian beaches, where they poison the waters and endanger the wreckers. Swiss companies are among those who save a lot of money that way.







Research partner: Nicola Mulinaris - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Financial supporter: Public Eye



The road to Alang is lined with shops and warehouses selling items that come from ships that used to sail across oceans: oak desks, faux crystal chandeliers, life vests and lifeboats, ropes, electric cables and switches, leather chairs, paintings, giant generators and motors – just about anything you can name. This is ship recycling in its most literal sense, even though these commodities are in reality no more than surplus products. The real reasons why huge ships end up on the beaches of Alang are their steel hulls and frames. Steel is where the real profits are to be made.


Alang and neighbouring Sosiya used to be simple fishing villages on India’s north-western coast. Today, they are famous – or rather infamous – because shipbreaking yards are now taking up kilometers of beaches along the Gulf of Khambhat, where the Arabian Sea cuts deep into the state of Gujarat. These shores have thus become boat cemeteries. 


A few days before we arrived in Alang, in early September 2018, two men died while working at the RKB Group-owned Honey Ship Breaking yard. Bhuddabhai Kudesha from Alang, and Ali Ahmed from Jharkhand, fell victim to an industry often seen as providing “the most dangerous jobs in the world”. The same yard was used less than a year ago by the Swiss company MSC to break up the MSC Alice. You can read more on this story below.



The omnipresence of impressive images of ocean-going giants on Asian beaches could give the impression that the yards are quite accessible. This is not the case. Driving into Alang, a big blue banner welcomes visitors to the Alang-Sosiya Ship Recycling Yard, but it soon becomes clear that the welcome is conditional. Journalists, academics and foreigners can usually only enter with permission from officials in Gandhinagar, Gujarat’s capital. The procedure can take months, or even longer, and in the rare instances where permission is granted it comes with many restrictions that limit access. Not having this green light from Gandhinagar, we were stopped at our first attempt to visit Alang. The Gujarat Maritime Board allowed us to go on the roof of their building overlooking the yard, but even a carefully disguised attempt at a selfie was stopped in its tracks: “No pictures, sir!” So it was clear that one needs to be inventive and try to circumvent the Gujarat Maritime Board checkpoint, persuade a yard owner to give the go-ahead, or have an extremely well connected liaison person who can introduce you. We combined these three conditions to get closer to the breaking yards. 



Shipbreaking yards in Alang, India - © Amit Dave 2018



Bhuddabhai’s last day

Bhuddabhai was 33. On August 31 2018, as on every other working day, he woke up around six in the morning, when the first light penetrates the darkness and ends the silence in his village. His eight-year-old son and two daughters, aged six and four, were still sleeping, but his wife was already up and preparing their breakfast. Six years ago, Bhuddabhai had managed to get a job on the shipbreaking yards of Alang, situated about three kilometers from their house. He knew how rare it was for a Kholi – originally a fisherman’s caste but now mostly day laborers in seasonal agriculture – to find work in that industry.


On the morning of the accident, Bhuddabhai was busy removing toilets from the MV Ocean Gala. His employer would later sell these items to the second-hand shops that line the road to Alang. It wasn't a particularly well-paid job, but it certainly made a better living than the farm work his father and younger brother Rajabhai did. Bhuddabhai would often lend them a helping hand on Sundays or before he left for the yards on his Honda motorcycle at 7.30 in the morning. On that day, Bhuddabhai took, for the last time, the dusty road from his home to the Honey Ship Breaking Yard.


We visited Alang only a few days later, and the exact circumstances of the accident were still murky when we spoke to his family. What transpires is that a piece of the hull must have broken off unexpectedly, taking Bhuddabhai with it as well as Ali Ahmed, the gas cutter who was cutting through the steel on the ship's ninth floor to create an extra exit. None of the workers were wearing safety belts. Nor were they required to, according to the shipyard’s owner. They were working inside the ship; only the cutters working on the ship’s exterior must wear safety belts.


Cruise ship MV Ocean Gala in Alang, India - © Amit Dave 2018



An endless list of problems

To better understand the conditions under which breakers work in Alang, we met Vidyadhar Rane, who is secretary-general of the union trying to organize workers there. In addition to the safety problems on the sites, there are many essential points that should be improved or obtained: “Housing. Toilets. Canteens. Correctly paid overtime. Paid holidays. Health and accident insurance for everyone. Adequate hospital capacity.” The latter can make the difference between life and death when disaster strikes. When Bhuddabhai had the accident at Honey Ship Breaking Yard, he was brought to the public hospital in Bhavnagar, a provincial town more than 50 kilometers from Alang. It takes more than an hour to cover that distance on the narrow two-lane road, full of speed bumps, stray cows, trucks and dangerous traffic. There is a small, 10-bed clinic run by the Indian Red Cross and the Alang Hospital, which has 20 beds, but these do not have the equipment to deal with serious injuries. These infrastructures are completely insufficient to meet the needs of almost 160 yards in Alang, on which 15,000 to 30,000 workers dismantle huge ships under extreme conditions, risking their limbs and lives. The numbers given vary with each interview, and official statistics are not available, since most labor is informal anyway.



A billion rupees industry

“There is no union in Alang,” says Nikhil Gupta, co-owner of Rudra Green Ship Recycling, one of the “better” shipbreaking yards in Alang. “And that makes doing business in Gujarat so nice: we have no unions because everyone is on the same page.” Gupta makes this surprising – and patently untrue – statement at the end of an interview during which he has tried to explain the economic laws of demand and supply that govern the world of globalized shipping and shipbreaking, or as industry captains like him prefer to call it: “recycling”. Although the other yard owners we speak to aren’t as disparaging, no-one has anything resembling a formal relation with a union. Nor do they engage in collective bargaining at company or sectoral level. “When there are problems, we deal with the workers directly. Much faster that way” says Nitin Kanakiya, the secretary of the Ship Recycling Industry Association (SRIA) and the owner of Triveni Yard, in Alang.


“The laws to protect workers are insufficient and are not enforced,” explains Dr Sahu Geetanjoy, a researcher at the Tata Institute for Social Studies in Mumbai, and one of just a few academics studying labor conditions in the shipbreaking industry. The government’s own financial interests may explain its lack of commitment to enforcing labor and environmental rules, he says. Through taxes and the leasing of land on the beaches, the shipbreaking industry contributes around 7 billion rupees, or about €87.5 million, to the Gujarat state coffers per year.


When we asked Bhuddabhai’s family what they expect from the owner of the shipbreaking yard, the answer came instantly: “Nothing.” Their answer reflects centuries of humiliation and marginalization; Kholis have never been able to expect anything from the wealthy or the upper castes. Bhuddabhai’s brother and nephew still don’t know whether the family will receive any compensation. Raj Bansal, the Honey Ship Breaking Yard owner, promises that the family will receive about €6,250, an amount that corresponds to three years of work on the yard. But a pension for the widow, Bansal says, will not be provided. Added to the immense pain of having lost her husband and the father of her three children is the destitution, more desperate than anything she has known so far.


Every year around 1000 ships are scrapped.

65 to 75 % of them end up on one of the three breaking beaches in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Bhuddabhai's tragic story evokes the threat to the lives of so many others; tens of thousands of men who, to support themselves and their families, dismantle ships with little or no protection on the beaches of South Asia. According to data published by the Brussels-based international NGO Shipbreaking Platform, every year around 1000 ships are scrapped, and 65 to 75 percent of them end up on one of the three breaking beaches in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.


Once a ship is destined for dismantling, it is considered to be hazardous waste under international law, specifically the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.



Weakening and circumventing laws

Click on the images below to discover the legal framework's weaknesses and how ship owners use loopholes to circumvent legislation.





UNEP Basel Convention

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) adopted the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal in 1992 following numerous hazardous waste trafficking scandals in the late 1980’s. The Basel Convention, which has been transposed into EU law by the EU Waste Shipment Regulation, controls the international trade of hazardous wastes. It is relevant for ship dismantling as a ship, which usually contains hazardous materials within its structure, is considered hazardous waste when destined for breaking. The Basel Convention, ratified by 187 countries, remains the only international legislation in force that aims at protecting developing countries from the dumping of toxic ships. Still, the shipping industry has exploited loopholes in the Basel regime and opted for the more profitable breaking of ships on South Asian beaches. Due to the fact that a vessel becomes waste only when the intent to dispose of it is evident, to escape the Basel regime it is sufficient for ship owners to hide their true intentions from the authorities of the exporting state - the state from where the vessel leaves for its final voyage to the scrap yard.

IMO Hong Kong Convention

When the Basel Convention State Parties started discussing more effective ways of regulating the trade of toxic ships – such as pinpointing the responsibility of countries where ship owners are headquartered – the United Nations’ specialized agency International Maritime Organization (IMO) decided to start working on a new legally binding convention specifically on ship recycling to be based instead on enforcement by the flag states. The resulting Hong Kong Convention (HKC) on the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships is not expected to enter into force before many years, since, to date, it has been ratified only by six countries. Civil society has been joined by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, European policy makers and developing countries in denouncing the HKC for setting low standards that would rubberstamp current dirty and dangerous practices on South Asian beaches.


EU Ship Recycling Regulation

At the European level, due to the ease by which ship owners have been circumventing existing waste laws, a new regulation on ship recycling was adopted. From 31 December 2018, EU-flagged vessels can only be recycled in facilities compliant with the regulation’s requirements and included in the European List of ship recycling facilities. The EU regulation sets higher standards than the HKC: the beaching method is not allowed and requirements related to downstream toxic waste management as well as labor rights are included.


The most dangerous job in the world

In 2015, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned about the dreadful consequences of this practice: “Shipbreaking has grown into a major occupational and environmental health problem. It is amongst the most dangerous of occupations, with unacceptably high levels of fatalities, injuries and work-related diseases.”


According to The Indian Supreme Court, the incidence of fatal accidents in shipbreaking (two in every 1,000 workers) is higher than that in mining (0.34 per 1,000 workers).

In India, data from the Gujarat Industrial Safety and Health Department show that at least 470 fatal accidents occurred in Alang between 1983, the start of the local shipbreaking industry, and 2013, indicates Dr Geetanjoy of the Tata Institute for Social Studies. “There is no central and reliable register of accidents in the yards,” he explains. But according to the Indian Supreme Court, the incidence of fatal accidents in shipbreaking (two in every 1000 workers) is higher than that in mining (0.34 per 1,000 workers), which is nevertheless considered to be “the most accident-prone industry.”


In 2009, the UN Special Rapporteur on toxic wastes already described in a report the long-term risks of shipbreaking, a time-bomb: “In shipbreaking yards, workers are often exposed to toxic chemicals including asbestos dust and fibres, highly toxic industrial chemicals which have been banned for decades but are still present in ships, as well as lead, mercury, arsenic or cadmium in paints, coatings and electrical equipment. Workers are often without protective equipment that reduces exposure. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of developing slow-progressing but fatal diseases, which may not become apparent until many years after exposure.”


As in other sensitive sectors, the human and environmental costs of such practices are paid by poor countries. The current Special Rapporteur, Baskut Tuncak, is more explicit about the responsibility of the shipping industry, “which externalises impacts on poor workers and communities in developing countries”. In that sense, container ships and other vessels are, right to the end, sad symbols of the abuses of globalization.



Ecological disaster and the “gravity method”

The environmental consequences are also dramatic. In June 2016, the EU Directorate-General for the Environment published an overview of several studies, one of which clearly showed just how heavily the Alang–Sosiya natural environment has been polluted by copper, cobalt, manganese, lead, cadmium, nickel, zinc and mercury. The Commission also refers to a previous study, published in 2001, that found that mercury levels in Alang were 15,500 percent higher than at a control site, and 16,973 percent higher for petroleum hydrocarbons. The researchers also detected the presence of certain bacteria at high levels.


Questioned on this point, Dr Geetanjoy Sahu, at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, complains about the dire lack of research into the state of fish populations, groundwater, air quality and noise pollution in the region. “The government makes it all but impossible to work independently in Alang, even for Indian researchers. That makes one wonder: what is it that needs to be hidden? What interests need to be protected so desperately?”


Some of the pollution is directly related to what the shipbreaking industry calls the “gravity method”: this is when large parts of the ship are cut with a blowtorch and crash down on the beach. The incredible impact of falling tons of steel combined with the process of cutting steel using very high-temperature gas flames causes often-toxic paints to be released into the sea and soil. The ships are broken during low tide and all the oil residues, heavy metals and toxic substances that aren’t cleaned up before high-tide are spread across the entire marine environment.


Scrapped blocks in the intertidal area in Alang, India - © Amit Dave 2018



“Europe is hypocritical”

However, all the site owners we interviewed have a common refrain: “Alang’s yards are well on track to becoming green, but the European companies lack serious commitment to the cause they preach.” Nithin Kanakiya, owner of Triveni ship recycling yard in Alang and the secretary of the local Ship Recycling Industry Association (SRIA), is even louder and clearer. “Europe is hypocritical. From one side, it demands the impossible in terms of salaries, insurances, safety and environmental protection, while from the other side their only interest is profit maximization, for which they are prepared to play one yard against the other,” he insists.


We asked Komalkant Sharma, the owner of the Leela Group of Companies, whether he looks at the big shippers for support: “When we find that ship owners are only interested in top dollars, then it becomes impossible for us to continue doing business with them. Leela aims to be better than the others in social and ecological terms, but that does not come for free. And that is why European ship owners should bear their share of responsibility and encourage the necessary investments by accepting lower prices for their vessels, or by engaging in the longer term with recycling companies. But the ship owners dump the responsibility on the recyclers.”


If Leela is considered to be one of the “best” yards in Alang, then it’s good to remember that Ravindra Chaudhari died there on Sunday, April 15 2018, while doing maintenance work. A sheet of steel, which was half cut out of the hull of the vessel Plata Glory, fell down.



A hell for (mostly) internal migrants

Many vessels are dismantled in Chittagong, Bangladesh, where labour and environmental conditions are even worse than at Alang. Mohamed Ali Shahin, who works for Young People in Action (YPSA) and is deeply involved in the shipbreaking issue, told us on the phone that on 10 November a worker at the SH Enterprise yard died while breaking the Ukraine-owned MV Velda. And that the day before another worker died while disassembling the Indian-owned Peri at the Golden Iron Works yard. Earlier this year, two workers died on the Zuma Enterprise yard; they were working on the MT EKTA, an oil tanker that, according to shipping databases, was sold to the breaker by the Swiss shipping company Navimar. Navimar bought the vessel that was operated by Maran Tankers, a subsidiary of Greek Anangel Shipping Group, in September 2017, only a month before it was brought to the beach at Chittagong, so it’s clear that the Swiss company acted as a conduit to scrap the ship, making a purely financial transaction.

"Zuma Enterprise is one of the worst yards in Chittagong. It has no safety measures, no compliance to international environmental standards and no waste management. Why would a Swiss company choose such an unsafe yard to cooperate with?"
MD Ali Shahin - YPSA

Zuma is not only unsafe, it’s also cheap with regard to workers’ health. “Their practice,” adds Shahin, “is to pay the family of a worker who died in an accident the legal minimum of 100.000 taka (a little over 1000 euros). But other yards would compensate such a tragic loss with 500.000 taka.”



19 fatalities in 2018, a new sad record

The government should do more to make it cleaner and safer, he argues, but it’s not just a Bengali responsibility. As he emphasizes: “European ship owners could do so much more to demand and stimulate safe and clean shipbreaking. They can enforce European standards and should invest, for instance, in waste-collection facilities. And, of course, they could start with cleaning out their ships of all the toxic materials before they even send them to South Asia.”


As in Alang, many of the shipbreaking workers in Chittagong are internal migrants who live in unsanitary accommodation. They work long hours, usually without labor contracts, and can take no holidays. The shipbreaking yards prevent trade unions from organizing the workers. In Chittagong, at least 15 workers were killed in 2017, while at least 22 suffered severe injuries. Provisional figures for 2018 indicate that 19 workers have lost their lives, the highest number in the past nine years. The majority of the deaths are caused by fires, falls from great heights, and workers being crushed by ship parts that come loose.


Shipbreaking yards in Chittagong, Bangladesh - © Studio Fasching 2017
Burns on worker's hands in Chittagong, Bangladesh - © Studio Fasching 2017



Switzerland is a global dumper, too

Although it has no access to the sea, Switzerland is home to big companies specializing in maritime chartering. Whereas Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) is well known among cruise lovers, most people have never heard of the other shipping companies, most of which are domiciled on the shores of Lake Geneva. Even less well known is the sad fact that the Swiss shipping sector also has a poor track record regarding the dismantling business in South Asia.


According to our calculations and based on a variety of industry sources, ninety Swiss-owned vessels ended up on beaches in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan between 2009 and today. The names of the companies involved are on the record, but receive little publicity: Atlanship S.A., Doris Maritime Services S.A., FleetPro Passenger Ship Management AG, Lumar S.A., MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co., Sallaum Group SA, Shipfin S.A., Sider Navi S.p.A., and Taunus Shipping S.A.


According to the UN Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Switzerland ranks 20th in the world in terms of the number of ships owned. However, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform reports that, in terms of the number of ships scrapped on South Asian beaches, Switzerland rises in the ranking. Almost all Swiss ships end their working years in such conditions, making Switzerland one of the biggest polluters in terms of the irresponsible management of its old ships.



MSC does not walk its talk


Of the 90 Swiss-owned vessels scrapped on South Asian beaches in the last ten years, a stunning 80 belonged to MSC.

Of the 90 Swiss-owned vessels scrapped on South Asian beaches in the last ten years, a stunning 80 belonged to MSC, the second-biggest container shipping company in the world. This giant with a turnover of 27 billion euros in 2017 does not have to publish its numbers, since it’s a family owned and run company, headed by its Italian co-founder Gianluigi Aponte.


In 2009, he received the Neapolitan Excellence of the World award from the then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and in 2013, the Cavaliere del Lavoro (Knight of Labor) honorary title from the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano. To be considered for the title, candidates must have an impeccable record of civil and social accomplishments, and have abided by all tax laws, while paying particular attention to workers’ protection and assistance. More recently, in October 2018, MSC won the Greenest Ship Owner of the Year award at the annual Green Shipping Summit in Amsterdam. “MSC was commended for its efforts to promote the sustainable use of marine resources and investments in green technologies,” the company writes on its website.


A shipping company that, to quote their Chief Sustainability Officer, aims “to become the most sustainable, technologically advanced and customer-focused shipping line in the industry” while at the same time sending its decommissioned vessels to South Asian beaches, has some explaining to do. We therefore contacted MSC two weeks after they were honored with the Greenest Ship Owner Award 2018 and told them that we wished “to get the facts and numbers about ships sold for breaking/recycling and to understand the decision processes or criteria used by MSC.” The response from Geneva was brief: “Thank you for your interest in MSC’s environmental strategy. As of today, we decline to take part in your research.”



Inexistent standard

In MSC’s sustainability report there is only one reference to the issue: “Our ship recycling practice is another important area of emphasis for MSC, as it is strictly related to labor standards, environmental protection and human rights […] only recycling yards with IMO HKC standards (see box 3) , ISO 14001 (environment), ISO 30001 (recycling management) and OSHAS 18001 (health & safety) standards are selected for recycling at the end of the useful life of a ship.” It’s remarkable that MSC refers to ISO 30001 as one of the conditions for working with shipbreaking yards, as this ISO standard number does not actually exist! Or perhaps it’s symptomatic of the whole sustainability of its shipbreaking practice: big declarations, but no results?


We wanted to know specifically whether MSC could confirm that all these requirements are fulfilled by the yards in Alang used by that company. For a company that prides itself on its corporate social responsibility, the response was again disappointing: “We hereby confirm that we are not able to satisfy your request.”



Poort track record in Alang

The beach at Alang is where the business practices of MSC and the destiny of Bhuddabhai converge, although with a time lag. On 4 August 2009, the MSC Jessica caught fire while it was being disassembled on a beach in Alang, resulting in the deaths of six workers. In 2011, the container ship MSC Chitra collided with the Khalijia3 in the port of Mumbai. After a long effort to remove most of the containers from the ship, the MSC Chitra was sold to be scrapped in Alang. But after it became clear that the ship was too damaged to be towed even the relatively short distance to Alang, Indian authorities ordered that it be sunk outside of Indian territorial waters. In 2017, not even a year before Bhuddabhai’s accident, the MSC Alice was scrapped at the Honey Ship Breaking yard in Alang. Although its certifications suggest that the yard is one of the better ones in Alang, the accident on 31 August 2018, in which two workers died while dismantling a cruise ship, shows that such privately issued certificates claiming compliance with the weak standards of the Hong Kong Convention fail to combat even the worst dangers of shipbreaking.


© Pradeep Shukla 2015



This story, which has been published also by Public Eye, is just an extract of a bigger investigation. Click here or on the image below to access the full investigation report.



Shedding light on hidden facts can change the world: this strong belief led Public Eye to set up the Investigation Award on the occasion of its 50th birthday to support the work of journalists or NGOs that investigate the practices of companies and their harmful ramifications on developing or emerging countries.


A prestigious jury selected two projects from 55 proposals submitted from over 20 countries. They received crowdfunding – over 300 people contributed to our participative funding-raising campaign. They allowed Nicola Mulinaris, from the NGO Shipbreaking Platform and Gie Goris of MO* magazine (Belgium), to carry out this investigation, and enabled Marie Maurisse to reveal the secret recipes of Swiss cigarette companies



MO* Magazine/NGO SBP/Public Eye - Behind the hypocrisy of better beaches

Press Release – Another Dutch ship owner faces huge fine for having beached a vessel

Dutch ship owner Holland Maas Scheepvaart Beheer II BV has been fined 780.000 EUR and paid a settlement of 2.2 million EUR - totaling to a price tag of almost 3 million EUR - for having beached a ship for scrapping in India.


In 2013, Holland Maas Scheepvaart Beheer II BV, a subsidiary of WEC Lines BV, sold the HMS Laurence to a cash buyer, a company specialised in the trade of end-of-life vessels to beaching yards. The vessel ended up in Alang, India, where it was broken under conditions that “cause serious damage to the environment and expose the health of workers and the local population to grave danger”, according to the Dutch Public Prosecutor. Scrapping ships on tidal mudflats is not allowed in Europe, and the export of hazardous materials [1] from the EU to developing countries is prohibited. 


Following criminal investigations on the illegal export of the vessel from Italy, the Dutch Public Prosecutor agreed to a settlement of 2.2 million EUR: the amount that Holland Maas Scheepvaart Beheer II BV had earned by selling the ship to the beaching yard. The Prosecutor stated that it had accepted the settlement as the company has announced that it will take measures to avoid scrapping vessels on beaches in the future. 

"It is very encouraging to see that ship owners are being held accountable for the trafficking of toxic ships – it is also encouraging to see that WEC Lines BV is now committed to the safe and clean recycling of its fleet off the beach. With that they join other responsible ship owners, such as Dutch Boskalis, German Hapag Lloyd, and Scandinavian companies Wallenius-Wilhelmsen and Grieg, that already have sustainable recycling policies in place that clearly rule out beaching."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Already in 2015, the captain of the HMS Laurence was sentenced by the Dutch Maritime Disciplinary Court to a six-month conditional suspension of his master’s navigation license. Beaching the vessel was in breach of the captain’s duty of care to the environment, according to the Disciplinary Court. This first suspension of a European ship master revealed that also the crew can be held liable for dirty and dangerous shipbreaking.


In March last year another Dutch shipping company, Seatrade, was convicted for having intended to scrap four vessels in India. Five subsidiaries of the company received fines, as did two of Seatrade’s CEOs, who were also sentenced to professional bans. 


The Netherlands is taking a leading position on the cracking down on illegal trafficking of toxic ships. More investigations are also underway in other European countries, such as the Harrier case in Norway and the North Sea Producer case in the UK. Last week, in Bangladesh, a shipbreaker was sentenced to a 280.000 USD fine for having scrapped a vessel on the touristic Parki Sea Beach. The court emphasised that beaching causes irreparable damage to the local ecology.

"Both exporting and importing countries are starting to hold industry stakeholders accountable – it is high time to scrap the beaching method and replace it by proper recycling in facilities that can contain pollutants and ensure safe working conditions. Better methods exist and facilities that operate under higher standards have the capacity to take in more ships. An increased demand for sustainable practices will see more investments in yards that meet the standards of the EU Ship Recycling Regulation. "
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

EU-flagged vessels are now exempt from the EU Waste Shipment Regulation that regulates the export of hazardous wastes, as they fall under the scope of the new EU Ship Recycling Regulation [2]. Under the new legal regime, EU-flagged ships must be recycled only in safe and sound facilities included by the EU in the European List of ship recycling facilities. Beaching yards will not be accepted on the EU list as they fall short of the environmental and safety requirements that the Regulation sets. 




[1] The HMS Laurence – as most vessels – contained toxic materials within its structure. 


[2] The EU Waste Shipment Regulation continues to cover non-EU flagged vessels. 



Platform News – Greenpeace regrets beaching of Rongdhonu (ex Rainbow Warrior II)

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform regrets that the Rongdhonu, former Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior II, has been sold for scrapping on the beaches of Chittagong, Bangladesh. Greenpeace International had donated their former flagship to another NGO, Friendship, for use as a hospital ship in Bangladesh. This NGO sold the vessel for breaking in Chittagong under supervision of Greenpeace.


Greenpeace has issued a statement of regret and of their full support for the NGO Shipbreaking Platform’s campaign to get ship recycling off the beach. Indeed, Greenpeace campaigned on this issue for many years.


The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, an alliance of human rights, labour, and environmental non-governmental organizations working internationally to raise the standard of ship recycling, agrees with the European Union (EU) that ship recycling must take place off the beach and in safe, secure facilities that the EU has listed based on environmental and social criteria. We will continue to work with leaders in the industry and governments to reform the shipping industry’s substandard practices that every year cause fatalities, occupational disease, and irreparable harm to the marine environment.

Press Release – Europe has capacity to recycle its ships, new data shows – yet shipowners want to use dangerous, polluting yards abroad

Ship recycling yards approved by the EU will have enough capacity to handle demand from EU-flagged ships that need to be scrapped, a new analysis shows. The shipping industry wants low-cost ship ‘breaking’ yards outside the EU – with dangerous working conditions and poor environmental standards – to be added to the EU list of approved facilities in order to meet demand from vessels bound by the bloc’s ship recycling law, which enters force on 1 January 2019. But the current EU list can accommodate the numbers and sizes of EU-flagged ships that are scrapped every year, the new report by NGOs Shipbreaking Platform and Transport & Environment (T&E) shows.


Damen Verolme Rotterdam ship recycling yard – © DAMEN / Offshore Ship Recycling Rotterdam – OSRR

The 20 EU yards currently recognised as meeting ship-recycling standards have had the capacity to handle all EU ships broken since 2015, the report shows. Shipbreaking Platform and T&E said lawmakers should not succumb to pressure to either delay the implementation of the regulation or add sub-standard shipbreaking facilities – which would never be allowed to operate in EU countries – to the EU list.


Yards that use the beaching method are of particular concern. Vessels are full of hazardous materials, including asbestos, chlorine compounds, heavy metals and residue oils. On a tidal mudflat it is not possible to contain these toxics – instead they are washed out to the sea, and ravage coastal ecosystems. Without proper protective equipment, workers are also sickened and exposed to unnecessary risk. Accidents at the beaching yards kill or maim young men each year due to unsafe practices. [1]


"The shipowners’ capacity claims are a clear red herring. Alternatives to beaching end-of-life ships exist. It boils down to not accepting the low occupational safety and environmental protection standards that allow many unapproved yards to operate cheaply."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Shipowners misleadingly cite the EU yards’ historical capacity to claim that they are over-capacity. However, this does not take into account the EU facilities operating under capacity due to being undercut by sub-standard competition overseas. It also ignores the capacity of newly-opened yards which are just starting to operate.


"The business of breaking EU ships is an opportunity to boost circular economy and create green jobs in Europe. EU-listed yards have the capacity to break all EU-flagged ships and more. There is no excuse for sending ships to dangerous and polluting yards on beaches overseas."
Lucy Gilliam- Shipping Officer - T&E

The European Commission, national experts and stakeholders meet on 3 October to discuss the implementation of the regulation.


Press Release – Investigations on the Harrier tighten as it reaches Turkey for recycling

Norwegian press DN revealed this summer that Aqualis Offshore and insurance company Skuld Maritime Agency are under investigation for their involvement in the attempt to illegally export the Harrier to Pakistan for scrapping. Aqualis Offshore issued two certificates for the ship – one for a break-up voyage to Pakistan, another for a voyage to Dubai – and it is suspected that the latter was issued to dupe Norwegian authorities in order to circumvent the European waste export ban. Skuld Maritime Agency was involved in issuing the last-voyage insurance for the vessel and is therefore being investigated for having aided the illegal export.


The former and current owners of the ship, Georg Eide and cash buyer Wirana, are also targeted in the ongoing investigations, and risk being held criminally liable for their attempt to illegally export the Harrier.

"It is encouraging to see authorities enforce the law on ships destined for recycling. Following also the Seatrade judgement in the Netherlands, the Harrier case is yet another warning to ship owners that selling a vessel for the highest price to a cash buyer is dirty business."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Another owner, Herbjorn Hansson of Nordic American Tankers, is under the spotlight in Norway for having sold eight vessels for beaching. Reactions to these revelations have been strong with the Norwegian Oil Pension Fund as well as the banks DNB and Nordea condemning beaching as a method for breaking ships.


The Norwegian Environment Agency urges ship owners to use facilities that have been approved by the EU for the recycling of their vessels, regardless of the flag of their ship. Its director, Ellen Hambro, states that it is unacceptable to endanger workers’ health and pollute the environment in developing countries for the sake of higher profits.

"We support the statements made by the Norwegian authorities and call also upon other stakeholders in shipping, such as insurers and financers, to play their part in putting an end to the dirty and dangerous practice of beaching. Safer and cleaner alternatives exist and ship owners must be pushed towards using these facilities."
Ingvild Jenssen - Executive Director and Founder - NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Yesterday the Harrier arrived in Aliaga, Turkey, where it will be recycled in line with the European waste laws. Waste Management company Norsk Gjennvinning will be supervising the process.