DOSSIER

 

 

    

Alang ship recyclers welcome HKC compliance

 

India, one of the world’s five countries that, between them, account for over 98% of all ship recycling (by gross tonnage), acceded on 30 November 2019 to the IMO Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, better known as the Hong Kong Convention (HKC).

The other four major ship recycling countries are Bangladesh, China, Pakistan and Turkey, none of whom have acceded as yet to the treaty that seeks to set global standards for safe and environmentally sound ship recycling.

First adopted in May 2009, HKC covers the design, construction, operation and maintenance of ships to ensure they can be recycled safely and in an environment-friendly way at the end of their lives. It al deals with how ships should be prepared for their final voyage to a recycling facilit without compromising their safety or operational efficiency.

The Convention will enter into force 24 months after the date on which the following three conditions are met:

  1. Ratification by 15 states.
  2. Representation by 40% of world merchant shipping by gross tonnage.
  3. A maximum annual ship recycling volume not less than 3% of the combined tonnage of the ratifying states.

      

Once HKC comes into force, the development and maintenance of an Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM), which identifies the amount and location of hazardous materials (like, for example, asbestos), waste and stores onboard a ship, will be required for all ships over 500gt.

 

Furthermore, ships shall only be recycled at ship recycling facilities authorised by the competent authority.

‘As of 30 November 2019, Norway, Congo, France, Belgium, Panama, Denmark, Turkey, Netherland, Serbia, Japan, Estonia, Malta, Germany, Ghana, and now India, have acceded to the Convention,’ says V K Gupta, president of Ship Recycling Industries Association (SRIA), and owner of Ghasiram Gokalchand Shipbreaking Yard at Bhavnagar, the city closest to Alang that houses 17km of beachfront plots on which vessels are demolished.

‘This means, the first of three conditions for enforcing HKC has been fulfilled. It will not be long before the other two conditions are fulfilled, and HKC actually comes into force. However, as many as 77 plots at Alang and Sosiya are already compliant with HKC, which has been brought in to protect human health and safety, and to prevent environmental pollution.’

Ritesh Agrawal, additional secretary of SRIA, adds, ‘Even before HKC was ratified by the government, 77 yards out of 120 at Alang and Sosiya had voluntarily adopted the measures, and already have certification from the classification societies – 35 of them by Class NK of Japan, and the others from RINA of Italy.’

Today’s ship demolition at Asia’s largest shipbreaking facility is a far cry from what it was in earlier years, even stretching into the first decade of the new millennium. That was a time when environmentalists, particularly Greenpeace, were loudly decrying the almost inhuman conditions that prevailed at the yards, and ship parts of all kinds were thrown down into shallow water at the beachfront from the vessel as it was being dismantled after beaching – or ‘intertidal landing’, to use the politically correct term.

      

These parts were then dragged either manually or with the use of light cranes or similar machinery, onto the plot’s storage area whose surface was sand and mud. Some parts would lie there under the unforgiving summer sun, rusting in the salty sea air, and often ending up unsuitable for any use other than just metal scrap.

Labourers were reluctant to wear the helmets, protective overalls and gloves supplied by the agencies responsible for workers’ safety, and worked with oxy­acetylene equipment in the depths of vessels, where temperatures often touched a searing 60-65OC. Workers literally had to emerge from the depths every half an hour to breathe.

‘Many of the workers initially revolted when we forced them to wear the protective outer suits and helmets, saying they could deal with the subterranean heat better without this gear,’ says Asif Khanbhai, managing partner of the 113-year-old firm Khanbhai Esoofbhai that has shipbreaking facilities in Alang and Mumbai’s Darukhana.

‘It took them a fair while to get used to the protective gear, but now they appreciate the reasoning behind the compulsion, and have no problem using it.’

Such stringent use of safety measures has reduced accidents, particularly those involving fatalities, to a bare minimum. Many of the yards have received certification for ISO-9001, ISO-14001 and OHSAS-18001 (which has since migrated to OHSAS-45001), have paved their entire plot with reinforced concrete, and now use heavy-duty cranes to move cut material from the ship’s deck to the yard’s storage area.

‘Recyclers no longer throw material overboard into the sea but use cranes to move it from the deck to its designated storage spot,’ says Khanbhai. ‘It is very easy to pick up the cut material or fully intact items like engines and radar equipment from the concrete surface, rather than from the shallow water or sand. In fact, one of the yards which had bought an old jack-up rig to dismantle cleverly kept the rig’s main crane for use in its other shipbreaking operations.’

Without doubt, a lot of the credit for the modernisation of recycling operations, obtaining of ISO certification, introduction of safety measures both on land and on board the ship to be broken, and movement towards applying HKC tenets must go to the younger, educated generation, which has either taken over from a parent, or got into ship recycling by choice.

A good example is Chetan Patel, md of Shree Ram Group of Industries, which owns four units at Alang, including the spacious 120mtr wide plot no. 78, which have an aggregate annual recycling capacity of 90,000ldt. Patel (49), son of a diamond merchant, has recently marked his 25th anniversary in the ship recycling business, having launched it in 1994, immediately after completing a degree in Electronics Engineering from Navi Mumbai.

‘We have already complied with all the requirements of HKC, apart from a few points regarding downstream waste management and also the availability of doctors at our hospital,’ says Patel. ‘We are in the process of resolving both issues and expect to get the EUSRR (European Union Ship Recycling Regulations) certification within the next few months’ – a reference to the fact the EU has already anticipated much of the HKC, bringing in its own requirement for EU-flagged ships from beginning 2019 onwards, including mandatory use of an approved recycling yard.

Shree Ram believes in taking care of its workforce and owns a 325-bed dormitory for its workers with an allowance of 42sq ft per worker, as per the specifications of the ILO (International Labour Organisation). The two main yards have been certified by ClassNK, as well as Lloyd’s Register.

Another member of the emancipated ‘Gen Now’ is 31-year-old Devang Gujarati, who heads the Sachdeva Group that operates on adjoining plots no. 65 and 66. The elder Gujarati, founder of the group, continues to hold the Finance portfolio, while the day-to-day management of the yards is fully in the hands of the younger man, a graduate in Business Administration from Mumbai University.

‘We laid the impermeable concrete flooring on parts of the yard about four years back, and gradually proceeded to cover the rest of the area, until we completed the entire yard’s flooring about six months ago,’ says Gujarati. ‘This has not only made the whole plot neat and clean but has also assisted in moving the recovered parts out to the market more efficiently.’

Gujarati claims to be bothered about not only the welfare of his workers (most of which are migrant labourers from the eastern Indian states like Bihar and Orissa), but also about the environment.

‘Whenever a new labourer joins, we ensure that he first receives proper training at the GMB (Gujarat Maritime Board) Training Centre, and then give him additional induction training at our yards,’ he says. ‘Each worker receives general training for duties like fire-fighting and emergency rescue, and also specialised training for his chosen field. For example, there is a special team that handles all hazardous waste on board the vessel.

‘We believe in safety first. Our winch operators work from fortified metal cages that protect them from any possible backlash of a broken cable. We have a safety zone for thoroughly washing down oily blocks with high-pressure water pumps, rags and sawdust, before they are sent for further cutting in the designated cutting area.’
The fact that a vast number of Indian shipbreaking yards are now compliant with ISO and HKC has encouraged several responsible international shipping lines like Maersk to send their vessels to India for dismantling, in preference to facilities in other parts of the Indian Sub-continent, like Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Although Bangladesh still attracts the bulk of international demolition tonnage, owing to the high prices that cash buyers bring to the table, the tide is slowly turning in favour of recyclers who have demonstrated that they have the best interests of their workers and the environment at heart.

Anil Jain, honorary secretary of SRIA, and owner of Atam Manohar Ship Breakers on Plot no. 88, concludes, ‘A vast amount of progress has been made by Alang shipbreakers in the past couple of years in the matter of efficient ship recycling, coupled with the safety of the workers and the environment. We would be very happy when, probably a couple of years from now, HKC becomes law.’

 

 

 

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