June 6 - 12, 2011

With ship breaking and recycling industry flourishing, the havocs being played with the ecology and human inhabitants living around the coastal areas of poor and developing countries are going immeasurable. Although, dismantling old vessels into reusable metals and steels is economically effective in terms of generation of employments, poor handling of ships containing dangerous substances pose serious risks to human health and environment.

There is a 'global shift' of ship breaking industries to developing economies not only because of labour cost advantage but also because of weaker legal and regulatory frameworks, according to a World Bank's report on ship breaking and recycling industry in Bangladesh and Pakistan 2010. "The ships contain many hazards that can have significant detrimental effects on humans and the environment if not dealt with care. The global shift in the industry to countries with comparatively weaker regulatory systems is of particular concern as ships contain many hazards," it stated.

The industry contributed 50 per cent of Bangladesh's steel production. Citing the statistics of 2008/09, the report suggested ship breaking steel's contribution accounted for 15 per cent of overall three million tons steel production in Pakistan. Ship breaking in Bangladesh produced up to 1.5 million tons scrap steel whereas that in Pakistan turned out approximately 80,000 tons. Out of total 132 scrap yards in Pakistan, 30 were operational while 40 were active in Bangladesh.

Pakistan's shipping industry employed 6,000 to 8,000 labours 2008-09 while estimated numbers of workers in the Bangladesh industry were 22,000. Up to 75 per cent of the total workforce comprises of migrant labours in Gadani's yards. A daily wager draws approximately Rs350 to Rs700 for eight-hour job. There is an absence of sanitation facilities and no supply of potable water. It is said in its heyday, Gadani's ship breaking industry employs as more as 30,000 workers. Ship breaking industry of Pakistan is mainly concentrated at Gadani, Balochistan. There are 132 ship-breaking plots in Gadani. There are 80 scrap melting plants (induction furnaces) and 334 re-rolling mills in the country (250 in Lahore, 16 in Islamabad, 16 in Gujranwala, and 52 in Karachi).


Ship breaking industry is considered a green industry in the world since every single parts of a vessel are reused reducing unnecessary use of natural resources. However, the process of recycling takes little care of environment in the countries wherein legal and regulatory enforcements are weak. Normally, a vessel is handed over to the ship breakers when it completes a life span of 30 to 40 years. Re-rollable and melting scraps that are extracted during the recycling are of high economic value. Besides, other important products including furniture, appliances, building materials, machineries, pipes, electric motors, hydraulic equipments, radio room equipments are also recovered from a ship. In 2009, 1200 vessels of 25 million gross tonnage capacity were scrapped in the world.

It is worthwhile to note that Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India hold the 70 to 80 per cent share in the international ship breaking and recycling industry.

Environment risks: Inefficient handling of hazardous parts and substances expose the surrounding atmosphere to the unalterable pollutions. Only preventive measures can be effective in eliminating pollutants. Heavy metals and a plenty of ozone depleting materials need to be managed properly to minimise or virtually stop greenhouse gas emissions. It is worthwhile to note that hazardous substances are not only posing risks during disintegration, but also when they are carried along the motors, cables, transformers, air-conditioning systems, and other paraphernalia reused off the yards. A study has found considerable soil contamination with oil and lead concentrations at Gadani's ship breaking yard.

Mechanisation of dangerous works reduces the risk ship breaking poses to the human life. Amongst three world's leading countries, Pakistan is said to adopt highest level of mechanization for the hazardous jobs in ship breaking.

Low wages in Cambodia, Myanmar, and Bangladesh can magnetise companies relocating to Asia due to wage arbitrages and regulatory loopholes. This may threaten growth of ship breaking industry of Pakistan, according the report. Large-scale relocation is unlikely, it said referring to Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The World Bank recommended that Pakistan should provide incentives to all stakeholders to make ship breaking environmentally sustainable and competitive. Comparing mid-2009 competitiveness in main cost and profit margins of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the report said labor costs, financial costs, and taxes were four per cent, five per cent, and 13 per cent in the former as compared to two per cent, three per cent, five per cent respectively in the latter. High profit margins in Bangladesh indicated that the country had more capacity to develop sustainable industrial practices.

Fortunately, there are ways that can minimise the impact of lethal substance on the environment. Besides creation of awareness in public about health implications of these materials, there must be sufficient funds available for the upkeep of beaches, unused plots near the yards, and the surrounding areas. Ecological and human friendly waste disposal is half the job done to set up sustainable environment. Waste disposal is also commercially viable industry.

The report clearly stated if prevailing practices in ship breaking and recycling industry continue until 2030, hazardous materials including waste liquid organic, acids, asbestos (carcinogenic mineral fibres) would be accumulated substantially. It asked for the major investments in the institutional capacity building to provide protection to the workers of ship breaking industry and enforce environment regulations. Public-private partnership model can play wonders in improving the overall situation in the Hub and Karachi port areas.