ever wondered where old ships go when they die?
Every year, hundreds of hulking vessels around
the world are retired by their owners and sold
to metal scrappers on the beaches of developing
|Greenpeace Study :
SHIPS FOR SCRAP
In 1998, Greenpeace activists
visited the shipbreaking yard in Alang,
India posing at ship enthusiasts.
They collected samples from the yard where the workers worked and lived.
The business is called shipbreaking. It's
global and it's lucrative, earning millions
of dollars for ship owners, international brokers
and the scrappers.
But the booming business often comes with a cost
- to human health and safety and the environment.
The workings of old ships contain a shopping list
of hazardous wastes - including PCBs, asbestos,
lead and oil. For the workers in developing nations
the opportunity to work in the shipbreaking yard
often means the only chance at survival. And yet
for the workers and their environment, breaking
old ships can have deadly consequences.
A landmark Greenpeace report (see left) concluded
that Alang was an environmental disaster zone where
fatal accidents were a regular occurrence. Marietta
Harjono from Greenpeace, "If
you sell a ship to a shipbreaking country you
can earn ten to twenty million dollars. You receive
the price of the steel. But you are not charged
with the money for the lost lives or money for
the toxic waste on board. Shipbreaking countries
are paying to become polluted."
For the international community, it means tough
The Canadian Venture is towed out through the St. Lawrence River to Alang,
India - under the Honduran flag.
Currently about 700 ships a year are recycled
around the world, only a handful from Canada.
Last year, the fifth estate set out to investigate
the business. We climbed aboard as two retired
Canadian Great Lakes freighters - Canadian
Trader and Canadian Venture - were towed
out of the St. Lawrence River to be sold for scrap
to the highest bidder.
We followed the Trader and Venture's final
odyssey all the way to the muddied beaches of Alang,
India - the world's most notorious
shipbreaking yard, where tens of thousands of
poorly paid and poorly protected workers toil in
some of the most hazardous working conditions anywhere.
(visit a photogallery to
find out more about Alang, India)
the fifth estate also followed the business closer
to home - coming aboard when Ontario ship-breaker
Wayne Elliott towed the old fore-body of the Great
Laker Jean Parisien to his yard on Lake Erie to
We also went down to Brownsville,
Texas, the hub of U.S. shipbreaking, to meet the
controversial father of the modern business in
the U.S., Richard Jaross.
For breakers like Elliott and Jaross, it's
a tough business where higher worker and environmental
standards mean they simply can't compete
with places like Alang.
The only shipbreaking yard in Canada is located in Port Colborne, Ontario.
Despite being the only one in the world to meet an international standard
for environment and worker safety, the Canadian Venture was sent to Alang
to be scrapped.
And yet on the James River in Virginia, dozens
of old U.S. Navy ships sit rusting and leaking
- a disaster waiting to happen, according to environmentalists.
They are part of a larger so-called Ghost Fleet
of aging decommissioned government ships in that
country waiting to be scrapped. So far, Washington
hasn't budgeted the hundreds of millions
of dollars required to properly dismantle them
all. (read more about the Ghost
Jim Puckett, an environmentalist, says there are
many financial pressures to export the ships. "The
Rand Corporation was commissioned to look at this
issue. And they reckoned that to domestically scrap
the ships (the Ghost Fleet) it would cost 1.8 billion
dollars. Compare that to the estimate if we continue
to export to India or China or Bangladesh, 170
Environmentalists recently balked at the U.S.
government's attempt to ship 13 Ghost Fleet
ships overseas to England, launching a lawsuit
to stop them.
While Washington dithers on the Ghost Fleet,
other governments, environmental groups and ship
owners are engaged in a high-stakes debate. They
are all jockeying to define whether a ship is waste,
whether the Basel
Convention on the trans-boundary movement
of hazardous wastes apply to ships, and ultimately
who should pay for the clean-up.
Canada is a signatory to the Basel
which means our environmental export laws apply
to Canadian ships that are being towed to a foreign
scrapyard. But as the fifth estate learned, that
didn't slow down the Trader and Venture,
they simply dropped the Canadian flag and our environmental
laws no longer applied.