Monday, April 28, 2014

Overseas shipbreaking a very dirty -- and deadly -- business

An aerial view of the Ensenada, Mexico, scrapyard where STORIS was dismantled. The "graving dock" is empty in this view from Google Maps but can be seen near the center of the photo.
The scrapyard in Ensenada, Mexico, is not environmentally friendly and would not meet the strict standards that are in place in the United States for shipbreaking. It has already been outlined in the post from March 12 in comments by maritime attorney Denise Rucker Krepp how the sale of a U.S. military vessel for foreign shipbreaking is a violation of section 3502 of the 2009 Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act. This language requires all U.S. government vessels to be scrapped at U.S. metal recycling facilities. The GSA sale of STORIS (and ACUSHNET, as well) also violates 40 U.S.C. 548, which mandates that MARAD be responsible for disposing of vessels greater than 1,500 gross tons. Then there are the issues of the export of STORIS, a U.S.-flagged vessel, that almost certainly contained regulated levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls. This would have violated the export regulations of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA).

These are among the laws that are designed to keep U.S. vessels, the shipping industry and especially the U.S. Government from dumping its waste and disposal problems on lesser-developed countries. Yet the U.S. Government broke its own laws in the series of actions that led to the excessing, sale, export and ultimate destruction of the nationally historic USCGC STORIS.

STORIS should never have been disposed of as she was. It was bad enough that the GSA broke off negotiations to preserve the ship to sell her to a buyer of questionable legal standing who then spent weeks trying to extort the two nonprofits that were legitimately trying to preserve her. Then the U.S. Government stood by and DID NOTHING as that buyer illegally exported the ship to be dismantled in a foreign scrapyard.

Shipbreaking in lesser-developed/third world countries is a major worldwide environmental and occupational safety concern. The creation of the Ensenada yard was protested by environmentalists who pointed out that the yard is directly adjacent to the municipal swimming beach. The yard is essentially a dock sticking out into the harbor adjacent to the major cement terminal in the port. The "graving dock" where STORIS was ultimately cut up, if you can even call it a graving dock, is in the middle of a field, with no apparent support facilities to protect the surrounding area. This scrap yard is also near protected wildlife habitat. The fire ignited aboard the fish processing barge BERING STAR by scrapping operations that allowed us to pinpoint STORIS' location in the resultant media photos shows the danger that yard poses to the area. Toxic smoke from the early November fire spread across the area, forcing evacuations until the blaze could be brought under control. Ironically, BERING STAR began life as a U.S. Army barge, built in 1942. Again, another U.S. vessel sold for dismantling in a foreign shipyard... Yet it is these lax regulations and cheap labor that make places like Ensenada attractive, especially for the STORIS buyer, who could never have made a profit domestically scrapping STORIS in the U.S.

A story in today's Daily Mail outlines the conditions at Chittagong, Bangladesh. Conditions are similar at Gadani, Pakistan and at perhaps the most famous of the third-world breakers, Alang Beach, Gujarat, India. The May issue of National Geographic magazine will feature a story on Chittagong's shipbreaking industry.

Here's the direct link to the National Geographic story about Chittagong

National Geographic footage.

Overseas scrapyard workers in these yards -- usually without any safety gear and quite often even without SHOES -- literally cut the ships apart with saws and torches, ripping the steel apart with their bare hands, leaving streams of oil and other contaminants running into the sea. Women and children forage through the toxic soup on the beach to scrounge for bits of metal they can sell for food money. Men are maimed and killed regularly.

Here are some links to related YouTube videos that are excellent illustrations of shipbreaking at Chittagong, Bangladesh, and reflects third-world shipbreaking rather well:

Here is another site with Chittagong from the BBC:

One from CBS news/60 Minutes:

And Alang Beach, Gujarat, India:

Pt 1

pt 2


There is more information being compiled on foreign shipbreaking that will be posted soon. 

(Originally posted April 23, 1014)

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