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Gadani ship-breaking industry facing new challenges

Published on 14th Sep, Edition 37, 2015


A major contributor to the economy by meeting half of the steel requirement of the country, Gadani ship-breaking industry in Balochistan is the third largest in the world, employing about 10,000 workers and meets one-third of the scrap requirements of the re-rolling mills in Pakistan. The industry is a significant source of supply of steel for Pakistan Steel Mills. It came into a ship-breaking yard in early 70s and within a decade, it emerged as second largest ship breaking yard of the world. The Gadani yards provide indirect support to a number of industries in Pakistan.

The ship scrapping is a labor-intensive industry, and, therefore, it is concentrated where labor costs are low. Unfortunately, underdeveloped countries are better markets for the recyclable materials. Pakistan, India, China, and Bangladesh are the major ship-breaking countries in Asia. It is worth mentioning that in the 1970s ship-breaking was only concentrated in Europe. Performed at docks, it was a highly mechanized industrial operation. But the rising costs of upholding environmental, health and safety standards the industry much focused it intention towards poorer Asian states.

From economic point of view, ship-breaking industry is vital to the growth and survival of steel industry and other re-rolling mills, but the unmanaged economic activity leads to the imposition of environmental costs. This has manifested in Pakistan in the form of air, water and land pollution; land degradation; water resources depletion; reduced biological diversity; a decline in natural resources stocks; and loss of ecological services. Some of these losses are irreversible.

During 1970s it wasn’t a matter of concern because of a few ships used to be scrapped. Now there is a new dimension, with growing concern about the environmental and social conditions of the ship disposal facilities, principally in the sub-continent. Different types of industries are dependent on the raw materials of the scrapped iron like re-rolling mills, welding workshops and furniture shops, etc. The furniture, electrical goods and other articles are also available in the ship.

Environmental issue

Pakistan’s ship dismantling industry faces hard challenges after the promulgation of new regulations by the European Union (EU). Ship-breaking involves generation of hazardous waste and toxic substances, which cause environmental pollution. The pollution or contamination can have both acute and long-term effects on human health and environment.

Pakistan’s failure to comply with more stringent ship-breaking standards puts up to 200,000 jobs at risk. There are some 130 yards over 10 km of waterfront at Gadani in Balochistan, generating revenue of around Rs8 billion a year. The ship-breaking workers are permanently exposed to toxic substances. They breathe toxic fumes and asbestos dust. On account of these health hazards, the environmentalists consider ship-breaking industry amongst the most deadly in the world.

The ships arriving at Gadani yard for breaking and recycling, carry toxic substances inherent in them, like PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) in engine oils, TBT in hull paints, Asbestos in electrical claddings, oils and other toxic materials. During the process of breaking the ships to recover steel from ships, these toxic wastes pollute the beaches, the sea and agricultural land around the yards.

The majority of ships scrapped on Gadani beach is oil tankers. Pakistani breakers are specialized in large tonnage vessels. Since September 2001 some very large crude oil tankers have sailed to the scrapping beach of Gadani. Workers dismantle the ships with their bare hands. They are exposed to suffocation or explosions and are supposed to contract cancer due to asbestos dust.


Lack of facilities

Hazardous waste materials from the ships are widely distributed. There is no proper waste management system at Gadani ship-breaking yard. There are no rules and regulations, which are, followed to avoid contamination of air, water and soil. The workers at the ship-breaking yard work in permanent danger. On board gasses cause fires and explosions. The incidents take place frequently due to fires and explosion, suffocation and inhaling CO2 and the steel plates and other material, which may hit the workers while falling off the ships. As a result of frequent accidents at the ship-breaking yard, many workers lost their lives because of the absence of health facilities at Gadani.

The waste is burnt in open fires at the ship-breaking yard. It causes fumes with very dangerous chemicals called as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). POPs are highly toxic chemicals and are very resistant to natural breakdown processes. Once released into the environment they persist for decades. The primary victim of this contamination resulting from ship-breaking activities is the workforce at the Gadani yard but the contamination also makes the larger communities in the vicinity vulnerable.

According to the environmentalists, after 25-30 years ships are at the end of their sailing life. These ‘End of Life Vessels’ are sold and dismantled to recover the valuable steel. About 95 per cent of the ships consist of steel. But the ships also contain large amounts of hazardous materials. The hazardous materials, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)-containing sealants, dioxins, asbestos — can have dire consequences on the environment as well as on the health and safety of the people who work breaking up ships. Taking advantage of lax health, environmental and safety standards, the ship-breaking industry today is based mostly in developing countries. The environmentalists contend that ship-breaking industries in Asia along the coast are seriously affecting the environment. The owners of the ship breaking yards do not follow the rules and regulations of the government regarding the pollution of environment.

Beaches in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been turned into ship graveyards. machinery parts, oil rags, open fires and leaking barrels are strewn all along the beaches. Ship-breaking is one of the world’s most hazardous industries. Workers break ships without safety equipment, by hand, and many are killed in explosions or die of suffocation from exposure to toxic fumes and asbestos dust.

In wake of international ship recycling regulation, Pakistan is set to make its ship-breaking industry safer and greener. The country plans to institute a project to focus on the development of inventories of hazardous waste and other waste at Gadani.


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