Alang boom worries environmentalists Gujarat's shipbreakers may be celebrating the recession, but environmental groups and human rights activists are getting increasingly concerned at the negative impact of the sharp rise in business experienced this year. Alang, the 'graveyard of ships' that stretches over seven miles of beach, is at the focus of their concern. Almost half the world's scrapping taking place here, (most of the other half is in Pakistan and Bangladesh): critics argue that this is solely because there is no regulatory oversight at par with that in the US or Europe. The result: high levels of toxicity and dangerously unsafe operations. Mercury and asbestos routinely pollute the environment, critics allege, pointing out that beach breaking would never be allowed in more advanced countries as it leads to unacceptably high levels of pollution. In addition, migrant labour works in dangerous conditions with regular accidents, they claim, pointing out to the fire that killed six in Alang last month. Dwarika Nath Rath, an activist, says, "These workers, coming from places like Orissa and Bihar, say that if they want to save their families they have to die themselves." Another bone of contention: rumours that two US Government owned vessels, MV Pvt James Anderson and MV 1st Lt Alex Bonnyman, are due to be scrapped at Alang. US government owned ships have been banned from being broken up in Asia since 1998. "This is really shocking," says Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, an environmental group. "We have elected an environmental President, and his administration is, for the first time in 10 years, willing to ignore the law and dump toxic waste from US flagged ships on developing countries."
Bedlam (and Logjam) in the Hoogly? Logistics firms, shipping companies and large Indian corporations are getting increasingly worried at the worsening situation in Haldia and Kolkata: silting of the Hoogly has resulted in greater draft restrictions in the two ports. This, combined with other issues that have plagued the ports for a long time have resulted in many shippers being forced to lighten cargo at Paradip or elsewhere before calling Haldia or Kolkata. It has also meant that smaller ships now call these ports in West Bengal, creating further congestion. Companies like SCI and Tata Steel have expressed concern. An ex trustee of the Port Trust has been quoted as saying that total traffic at the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) is projected to see a 6 million tonne decline in 2009/10. This would be calamitous for the Kolkata Port Trust, as HDC is their lifeline, besides the fact that Kolkata and Haldia docks are a gateway to cargo bound for the North East and Nepal. Industry observers in Kolkata say that it is just a matter of time before the private Dhamra port, yet to be made operational, takes away huge business from the KoPT, plagued as it is with many other issues.
U.S. and Canada near agreement for tougher ship emission standards. The two countries are close to finalising an agreement that will regulate the emissions of ships within 200 miles of its shores, media reports confirm. The IMO is expected to approve this at its meeting in March, having agreed in principle to the proposals at an earlier meeting in July this year. Once approved, ships will have to use fuel with a lower sulfur content beginning 2012, with further decreases by 2015. Starting 2016, new engines on vessels operating in the area would have to additionally reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent. Researchers at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say that thousands of lives will be saved every year and that 3 million people will avoid respiratory problems with this exercise. Critics allege, though, that these measures don't go far enough "since Carbon dioxide and black carbon (soot), two of the main contributors to global warming, are left unregulated". Ships today account for about 17 percent of the air pollution around the US; a figure which would go up to 50 percent by 2030 if corrective action is not urgently taken, they claim.