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Ship breaking : are we ready for doubling capacity?

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Union Budget 2021-22 talked about achievement of India’s ship recycling industry, including its potential to be doubled by 2024 and attract more end-of-life vessels to India from Europe and Japan. This, however, may sound like a radical step to promote a circular economy in the ship recycling sector from a bird’s eye view.

It will demand concrete actions from the authorities to ensure that the workforce’s occupational health and safety, as well as environmental conditions, are not compromised. Doubling the capacity without any strategic plan may lead to several occupational hazards and ecological implications.

It is crucial to note that recycling of obsolete ships is an important economic activity that provides livelihood to thousands of workers. It also fulfils the country’s domestic steel demand by 1-2 per cent, approximately 28 per cent of the country’s total imported ferrous scrap. Ship recycling, however, has also been a long-standing source of coastal pollution over the past four decades.

India has the world’s largest ship recycling operation — the Alang-Sosiya ship recycling yards — situated on the west coast of Gujarat. Alang at present has nearly 120 active recycling yards dismantling end-of-life ships to extract various types of scraps and equipment for recycling and reusing.

These yards are responsible for 47 per cent of all ships recycled globally and employ 60,000 people. The operation started in 1982 and has expanded to more than 100 times its original size. More than 350 ships are currently recycled every year in Alang-Sosiya.

India has overtaken the United States’ steel manufacturing industry and has become the world’s second-largest steelmaker.

Some of the imported scrap steel comes from its ship-recycling industry, which has been the world’s largest in terms of light displacement tonnage (LDT) in six of the last 10 years.

Nearly 90 per cent of a ship’s LDT is reportedly steel, which can be sub-divided into melting steel (30 per cent of LDT) and re-rollable steel (60 per cent of LDT).

Besides, nearly 800 second-hand sale shops are stationed in Alang in the vicinity of the ship recycling yards, which sells materials recovered from end-of-life vessels. Clearly, ship recycling plays a crucial role in attaining a circular economy by generating secondary raw material (re-rollable steel) and minimising resource depletion.

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