Ship graveyard. Does it sound strange to you? Well, after you get down from the beautiful cruise you probably never think of the ship again but they too have a life cycle, just as we do.
A Ship graveyard, or ship breaking yard, is a place where ships go to die or are sent to be decomposed.
Alang in Gujarat has the largest ship graveyard in the world where huge tankers and cruise liners are scrapped on the shore front by teams of laborers using little more than hand tools.
Ship graveyards are of two varieties: the ones created specifically for the purpose of a ship’s decomposition and the oceanic parts where ships have been stranded without any chance of getting rescued because of natural occurrences.
Alternatively, there exists a third variant of ship graveyard. The ships that form a part of this graveyard are not ships that are put specifically to disintegrate. On the contrary, they are ships defunct from the active line of duty because of some reason.
- Alang has a 10 km long coastline where ship-breaking is done.
- 60% of the world’s total dismantling is done here.
- The First ship beached here in 1983 and since then 6,900 ships have been dismantled there.
- This recycling industry is valued at 6,000 crore and chips in 2,000 crore to the government in taxes.
- In the year 2010-2011, they employed 20,000 workers and created more than a lakh jobs.
The unhindered view of the sea and the sun on the horizon are signs that all is not well at Alang.
Alang, which is situated in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat, is not a usual place. It serves as a maritime salvage industry. Here, things are different and it smells more of old things than fresh new minted ones. What they sell is odd. How they sell it, even more so. Stacks of wash basins and toilet fittings — old and worn out — are on display. Big and small commercial refrigerators — some rusting — are piled up. Steel pipes, faded anchor ropes, rusted iron chains and used cables lie in heaps and are sold by weight.
Marine stores sell things you do not easily recognize — from marine engines to oil pumps, air compressors to chilling units. Used furniture and crockery shops abound.
These were ships that once rode the high seas, but past their prime, they end up on the shores of Alang, where workers with blowtorches and hammers strip it of steel and other accessories. But now, the oil-soaked beach looks almost barren, with only a few ships dotting the horizon, their rusted anchors and chains the only reminders of a beach that once brought down hulks.
Mr Mehta, who is a director of Priya Blue Industries Low steel says that not too long ago, this 10-kilometer stretch along the coast of Alang used to be lined up with old and decommissioned ships but now amid a glut of cheap Chinese imports, along with the weakness of the Indian rupee, money will be lost in the current market from buying and scrapping a ship. That’s why his business has been on hold for the past month, he explains.
Just 30 of the 130 once operational ship-breaking plots at Alang are active while the others have shut down, figures from the Ship Recycling Industries Association India reveal.
Mr. Mehta says,
We’ve completely stopped, meaning I don’t have a vessel to scrap. The market has been going down and also the dollar is increasing, so because of that we were losing too much money. The shoreline used to be full of ships. In the good days, there were very good margins.
Cruise liners that once carried hundreds of tourists to exotic locations and huge container ships that made voyages to far-flung ports are among the vessels from all over world that have ended up on Alang’s shores after they are deemed to have come to the end of their working lives. They are scrapped mainly for their steel because the metal can be sold for use in construction, for example. Other components of the vessel, including the mechanical parts, lifeboats and furniture, are also sold off to maximize revenues.
Until recently, Alang’s beaches were seen with activity as ship-breaking firms profited from this labor-intensive, grimy exercise of demolishing these vessels. This dirty work can more easily and cost-effectively be done in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, because of lower labor costs and fewer restrictions when it comes to dealing with hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead, as well as environmental pollution, compared to many other parts of the world.
Alang, has seen lots of ups and down. From being the center of the world where ships were to be sent, it stands deserted now with hardly any work. Alang has a natural advantage which enabled large ships to come straight into the shore during high tide and when the tide recedes, the ship stands on an almost dry dock.
As per last report on how the future of Alang can be made better, Japan and the Gujarat government have joined hands to upgrade the existing Alang shipyard. They have signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which focuses on technology transfer and financial assistance from Japan to assist in the upgrading of operations at Alang to meet international standards.
This is a part of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor, a larger partnership between the Japanese and Gujarat government. Under this plan, Japan will address the environmental implications of ship breaking in Alang, and will develop a marketing strategy. The project is to be carried out as a public-private partnership. The project’s aim is to make this shipyard the largest International Maritime Organisation-compliant ship recycling yard in the world.
This video shows the arrival of ship at Alang.