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Ship breaking near Chittagong, Bangladesh
Ship breaking near Chittagong, Bangladesh

Ship breaking or ship demolition is a type of ship disposal involving the breaking up of ships for scrap recycling, with the hulls being discarded in ship graveyards. Most ships have a lifespan of a few decades before there is so much wear that refitting and repair becomes uneconomical. Ship breaking allows materials from the ship, especially steel, to be reused. Equipment on board the vessel can also be reused.


History and transition

Until the late 20th century, ship breaking took place in port cities of industrialized countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. Today, most ship breaking yards are in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, due to lower labor costs and less stringent environmental regulations dealing with the disposal of lead paint and other toxic substances. Some "breakers" still remain in the United States. There are also some in Dubai, UAE for tankers. China used to be an important player in the 1990s. It is now trying to reposition itself in more environmentally friendly industries.

Efficiency of facilities

Ship breaking can occur in a wide variety of facilities. They range from advanced sites like Van Heyghen Recycling and other "Green Ship Recycling" approved facilities in industrialized ports, to low-tech facilities such as as Alang, India. At present the only truly environmentally correct option is the use of "Green Ship Recycling" at approved facilities. These facilities can recover up to 99% of the ship's materials and correctly process hazardous waste such as asbestos.[1]

Health and environmental risks

In addition to steel and other useful materials, however, ships (particularly older vessels) can contain many substances that are banned or considered dangerous in developed countries. Asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are typical examples. Asbestos was used heavily in ship construction until it was finally banned in most of the developed world in the mid 1980s. Currently, the costs associated with removing asbestos, along with the potentially expensive insurance and health risks, have meant that ship-breaking in most developed countries is no longer economically viable. Removing the metal for scrap can potentially cost more than the scrap value of the metal itself. In the developing world, however, shipyards can operate without the risk of personal injury lawsuits or workers' health claims, meaning many of these shipyards may operate with high health risks. Protective equipment is sometimes absent or inadequate. Dangerous vapors and fumes from burning materials can be inhaled, and dusty asbestos-laden areas are commonplace.

Aside from the health of the yard workers, in recent years, ship breaking has also become an issue of major environmental concern. Many ship breaking yards in developing nations have lax or no environmental law, enabling large quantities of highly toxic materials to escape into the environment and causing serious health problems among ship breakers, the local population and wildlife. Environmental campaign groups such as Greenpeace have made the issue a high priority for their campaigns.[2]


As an alternative to ship breaking, many ships are also sunk to make artificial reefs after being cleaned up. Other possibilities are floating (or land-based) storage.

See also


  1. ^ Green Ship Recycling standards and facilities
  2. ^ "Shipbreaking". Greenpeace. March 16, 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-27.  

Further reading

  • Langewiesche, William (2004). The Outlaw Sea: Chaos and Crime on the World's Oceans. London: Granta Books. ISBN 0865475814.   Contains an extensive section on the shipbreaking industry in India and Bangladesh.
  • Buxton, Ian L. (1992). Metal Industries: shipbreaking at Rosyth and Charlestown. World Ship Society. p. 104. OCLC 28508051.   Ships scrapped include Mauretania and much of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow. Ships listed with owners and dates sold.
  • Buerk, Roland (2006). Breaking Ships: How supertankers and cargo ships are dismantled on the shores of Bangladesh. Chamberlain brothers. p. 192. ISBN 1596090367.   Breaking Ships follows the demise of the Asian Tiger, a ship destroyed at one of the twenty ship-breaking yards along the beaches of Chittagong. BBC Bangladesh correspondent Roland Buerk takes us through the process-from beaching the vessel to its final dissemination, from wealthy shipyard owners to poverty-stricken ship cutters, and from the economic benefits for Bangladesh to the pollution of its once pristine beaches and shorelines.

External links



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