Waste follows the path of least resistance

Note: Are Hazardous Wastes and Hazardous Materials Synonymous? No, said Supreme Court and Basel Convention.
Yes, says Ministry of Environment & Forests even as its proposed Hazardous Rules make India least resistant to global waste flow. Startled by the proposed Draft Hazardous Materials (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2007 of Ministry of Environment & Forests currently headed by the Prime Minister, environment and public health researchers and activists have termed it as a gross act of linguistic corruption to satiate hazardous waste traders' naked lust for profit.

Unlike what is being attempted by the Ministry, the classification into hazardous waste is based on the system for the classification and labelling of dangerous substances and preparations, which ensures the application of similar principles over their whole life cycle. It is an effort to undo whatever good has been by the Supreme Court and its committees.
The Draft Rules (available at http://www.envfor.nic.in/legis/hsm/HAZMAT_Draft.pdf) propose to redefine "hazardous waste" as "hazardous material", contrary to the definition provided by the Supreme Court and UN's Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted in Basel, Switzerland on 22 March 1989 and entered into force on 5 May 1992 with its Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland.
India is a party to this Convention. (http://www.basel.int/text/documents.html)
As per a notification signed by R.K.Vaish, Joint Secretary, Hazardous Substances Management Division, Ministry of Environment & Forests and dated 28 September 2007, the Ministry has announced its motive to amend the existing Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989 that too has been amended from time to time imposed restrictions and prescribed procedures for management, handling and disposal of hazardous wastes as per Supreme Court's directions. The notification says, "after expiry of a period of sixty days form the date of publication of this notification in the Official Gazette; The objections or suggestions which may be received from any person in respect of the said draft rules before the period specified will be taken into consideration by the Central Government. Any person desirous of making any objection or suggestion with respect to the said draft rules may forward the same within the period so specified to the Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Paryavaran Bhawan, Central Government Offices Complex, New Delhi-110003."

In manifest contempt of court's directions, the proposed Rules entails exempting the transit countries from providing prior informed consent for all shipments of hazardous waste to India. What is baffling is that the proposal states that as long as a material contains less than 60% contamination by a hazardous constituent, then it is eco-friendly and safe for our ecology. Waste asbestos imports are banned unless they are embedded in the structure. The proposed Rules are a product of those Development fundamentalists who advocate "Economic Growth at any cost"-by poisoning and polluting human body, wildlife and environment- due to the dictates of unbridled market forces and trade.

The apex court in its landmark judgement made the position unambiguously clear. It says, "Hazardous Wastes are highly toxic in nature. The industrialization has had the effect of generation of huge quantities of hazardous wastes. These and other side effects of development gave birth to principles of sustainable development so as to sustain industrial growth. The hazardous waste required adequate and proper control and handling. Efforts are required to be made to minimise it. In developing nations, there are additional problems including that of dumping of hazardous waste on their lands by some of the nations where cost of destruction of such waste is felt very heavy. These and other allied problems gave birth to Basel Convention. The key objectives of the Basel Convention are: " to minimize the generation of hazardous wastes in terms of quantity and hazardousness; to dispose of them as close to the source of generation as possible; to reduce the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes."

The court further noted, "…the hazardous wastes situation in India is fairly grim. Hazardous wastes, found dumped in the open environment have been the cause of widespread pollution of ground water, creating drought-like situations in areas traditionally not lacking in water suppliers. Public hearings conducted by the High Power Committee on Hazardous Wastes (HPC) in several cities brought forward pleas and representations of distress from affected victims and harsh complaints about lack of response from statutory authorities. The authorities appear to have ignored several warnings, reports, investigations and studies that highlighted zones of ecological degradation due to indiscriminate dumping and disposal of hazardous wastes. The High Power Committee on Hazardous Wastes noted that there was a lack of policy and vision at the highest level. This has resulted in a very poor management system. This situation cannot be allowed to continue."

In effect, the proposed Rules is a formal announcement of globalization of the toxic chemical crisis. The co-opted silence and self-serving lip-service of a section of environmental outfits who swear by environmental justice is starkly evident. As long as there is corporate funding to political parties such unjust and barbaric acts of quid pro quo will always be attempted.

It creates a unique moment for all the environment, public health, human rights and civil rights institutions, academicians, activists, NGOs and trade unions to join hands in opposition to toxic trade in toxic wastes, toxic products and toxic technologies, that are sought to be exported from rich countries to India and to resist a similar trend within the country as well.

There is no alternative to corporate accountability; waste management through clean production and reduction in the use of toxics chemicals through life cycle assessment, precautionary principle, eco-design, extended producers' responsibility and polluter pays principle bu the same is sought to be undermined by the proposed Rules.

This Rule intends to legitimize the illegalities currently being practised. Providing a perspective from Malaysia on the illegal traffic of Blue Lady (SS Norway) Hilary Chiew has authored Hazardous shipyards and has taken stock of "Appalling working conditions and widespread pollution are common in India’s ship-breaking yards"in her piece published on 13 November, 2007 in The Star newspaper. Norwegian Cruise Line and its parent company Star Cruises Ltd (SCL) has refused to assume decontamination responsibilities for Blue Lady. Malaysian authorities appear unconcerned over the matter since the vessel had departed in May 2006. Department of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment have not responded to calls from campaigners who urged Malaysia to exercise its rights to compel Germany to recall the ship and to abide by its obligation to prevent the illicit trade. It is learnt that the authorities are seeking legal advice. A spokesman from SCL said “the company is unable to comment at this point in time”.

Given is the full story

Hazardous shipyards

Appalling working conditions and widespread pollution are common in India’s ship-breaking yards.

ON A stretch of beach in the state of Gujarat, western India, impoverished Bhojpuri- and Oriya-speaking workers are salvaging whatever valuables they can find from an 11-deck cruise ship.

Anchored in Alang waters since June 2006, the 46,000-tonne Blue Lady (formerly the luxurious trans-Atlantic liner SS Norway) has been embroiled in a protracted legal battle in the Indian Supreme Court. A breakthrough for the ship-breaking industry came on Sept 11 when the apex court gave the green light for it to be dismantled.

The Supreme Court has ruled on grounds of fait accompli: the situation has become “irreversible” since the vessel has beached but it has asked that precautionary measures be taken in dismantling the ship.

The 44-year-old Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) vessel is at the centre of an international outcry against the dumping of toxic wastes on the shores of South Asian sub-standard yards that have no decontamination facilities.

The 315m-long ship was retired from the fleet of NCL in May 2003 after an engine room fire and explosion in Miami. It was later towed to Bremerhaven, Germany, for repairs but was relocated to Port Klang in August 2005. NCL was acquired by Malaysian Genting Group’s Star Cruise Ltd, the world’s third largest cruise company, in 2000.

Bangladesh, the original destination, rejected the ship in February 2006 as its contents are harmful to the environment and human health. The ship was eventually towed out of Port Klang in May 2006 for repairs in Dubai. However, the vessel instead entered the Gujarat port a month later, triggering a series of court actions.

The Indian Supreme Court allowed the vessel to enter Indian waters on humanitarian grounds when the purchaser Haryana Ship Demolition cited “difficulties due to monsoon storm”. But campaigners claimed the owner and purchaser had timed the ship’s departure to coincide with monsoons after an eight-month wait in Malaysia. (The ship has since been sold to Priya Blue Shipping Ltd.)

NGOs Platform on Ship-breaking, a grouping of Greenpeace International, Basel Action Network, Ban Asbestos Network of India and nine other groups, has since appealed the decision which it claimed has violated the same court’s ruling five days earlier. On Sept 6, the court had banned the entry of contaminated vessels and asked the government to produce a comprehensive ship-breaking policy.

Gopal Krishna of Ban Asbestos Network India alleged that the about-turn was due to collusion between government officials and the steel lobby that is desperate to keep the business alive at the notorious beach.

The ship is believed to contain 1,200 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated materials, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), radioactive materials and other hazardous substances that could endanger the lives of nearly 700 workers and some 30,000 villagers.

The dismantling is expected to take one year and will be done by uneducated migrant workers with little safety training and equipment.

Permission to beach the vessel was granted on Aug 1, 2006, by the court following inspection by the Technical Committee. NGOs Platform said the inspection did not comply with international and national laws.

It said the inspection team failed to quantify and identify the location of asbestos and PCBs on the ship, and failed to address the absence of technical capacity of the Alang shipyard to manage the dangerous materials and protect the workers. It pointed out that the government ignored an offer from a salvage company to refloat the vessel.

Under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, ships that have outlived their service are considered hazardous waste and unless decontaminated, are forbidden from being exported. The convention was designed to curb the dumping of toxic wastes from developed countries to developing nations, which often have less stringent environmental laws.

The Blue Lady saga mirrors the case of the Danish ship Riky in 2005, which was dismantled amid accusations of violations of both the convention and a court order that demanded decontamination and an inventory of hazardous materials onboard. In early 2006, French aircraft carrier Le Clemenceau was allowed to enter Indian waters laden with toxic substances until the French government, under intense public pressure and legal actions, recalled the ship.

Appeals by NGOs Platform urging the ship owner, Norwegian Cruise Line and its parent company Star Cruises Ltd (SCL) to assume responsibilities for Blue Lady went unanswered.

NGOs Platform also claimed that SCL withheld vital information from the German authorities when it sought permission to leave Bremerhaven. It said as early as December 2004, NCL had devalued SS Norway to a scrap value of US$12mil and was aware of the hefty cost to remove the wastes, rendering the sale for reuse unlikely. Hence, the intent to dispose was formed but not disclosed to the German and Malaysian authorities.

Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities appear unconcerned over the matter since the vessel had departed in May 2006. Department of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment have not responded to calls from campaigners who urged Malaysia to exercise its rights to compel Germany to recall the ship and to abide by its obligation to prevent the illicit trade.

It is learnt that the authorities are seeking legal advice. A spokesman from SCL said “the company is unable to comment at this point in time”.
In an analytical article in Frontline "The dilution of a principle" V. Venkatesan argues that "The Supreme Court judgment permitting the dismantling of Blue Lady reverses key milestones in environmental jurisprudence. "

In "Shipload of trouble" Lyla Bavadam submits, "The Blue Lady case is a litmus test of the Indian government’s stand on hazardous wastes" in the November 03-16, 2007 issue of Frontline.

Waste follows the path of least resistance

The Environment Ministry, at least since 1995, has been guilty of numerous acts of omission and commission

After hazardous wastes, now it’s municipal and hospital wastes. It is not that we did not know about it but the condemnation from the Union Health Minister is noteworthy since it shows how waste is flowing from the North to the South as a global trend.

This underlines the importance of Prior Informed Consent. Although the custom officials of the Kochi port deserve appreciation unlike the officials at Alang port in Gujarat who have continued to let hazardous waste enter Indian waters with impunity. In Kochi, three containers sent from New York based Belsun Corporation in the name of recycling had medical wastes, municipal, surgical, bio-medical and even e-waste.

As in Kochi, at Alang too the ship named Blue Lady (SS Norway) that was allowed anchorage on humanitarian grounds admittedly has a huge amount of hazardous wastes such as asbestos, radioactive material, incineration ash, ballast water, PCBs, heavy metals.

But due to the lame and hollow excuse of the supposed irreversibility of the ship offered by Gopal Subramaniam, Additional Solicitor General, it remains there, although Prof. M.G.K. Menon, Chairman, High Power Committee on Hazardous Wastes, had recommended that it be sent back. In this case the company in question is Star Cruise Ltd that has so far successfully attempted to escape its decontamination cost in the aftermath of boiler explosion of 2003 in Miami.

In March 2007, Bhagvatsinh Haubha Gohil, sarpanch of Sosiya, Tehsil Talaja, Gujarat, filed an application on behalf of 12 sarpanchs and 30,000 people who live within the distance of 1 to 25 km from the ship breaking yard at Alang before the Justice Balakrishnan bench, which listed the matter for hearing before the Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S.H. Kapadia bench in the Blue Lady case.

These people largely depend on seafood that is under threat from ship-breaking. The ship in question contains a large amount of asbestos that poses a huge risk to the villagers. Their application is yet to be heard although the final orders were passed on September 11. The 45-year old, 315-metre long and 16-storey asbestos laden toxic ship still has radioactive material at more than 1,000 places.
Accident rate

The hazardous waste generating ship-breaking industry is already known to have a higher accident rate (2 workers per 1,000) than the mining industry (0.34 per 1,000). This is considered the worst in the world, and 16 per cent of the workers here are suffering from asbestos related diseases. In its order on September 11, the Supreme Court advanced “the concept of ‘balance’ under the principle of proportionality applicable in the case of sustainable development…” and ruled:

“It cannot be disputed that no development is possible without some adverse effect on the ecology and environment, and the projects of public utility cannot be abandoned and it is necessary to adjust the interest of the people as well as the necessity to maintain the environment. A balance has to be struck between the two interests. Where the commercial venture or enterprise would bring in results which are far more useful for the people, difficulty of a small number of people has to be bypassed. The comparative hardships have to be balanced and the convenience and benefit to a larger section of the people has to get primacy over comparatively lesser hardship.”

This is the logic advanced by the Union Environment Ministry that makes India a dumping ground of developed countries. At least since 1995, this Ministry has been guilty of numerous acts of omission and commission that endanger environmental health. It is the respondent in the hazardous wastes case and has been fined by the apex court for dereliction of duty.

By not hearing the matter of gross illegality committed by Riky, the Danish ship and by condoning the entry of Blue Lady in Indian territorial waters in violation of court’s own orders of October 14, 2003 and September 6, 2007, all relevant international laws such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal have been violated besides international labour conventions and treaties — that govern the breaking of contaminated ships — to all of which India is a signatory.

The condemnation by the Health Ministry makes a case for the merger of the Environment Ministry with it because it is more concerned about the environmental health of the citizens.

November 04, 2007 The Hindu

P.S:Refusing to learn any lessons from its past failures, Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is promoting obsolete waste treatment technology by misplaced claims of Rakesh Mehta, currently Power Secretary, Delhi Government (foremer Commissioner of Municipal Corporation Delhi about Carbon Credits from Incineration of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) that is based on combustion of municipal solid waste. It is reliably learnt that the Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd (TOWMCL), the Special Purpose Vehicle between Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. (IL&FS) and has received registration for its integrated waste to energy CDM project by the CDM Executive Board of UNFCCC although Indian incineration based waste to energy projects are quite manifestly business as usual projects, therefore, they do not meet the additionality criteria. It has received registration in November, 2007. This integrated project hopes to generate 2.6 million Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) over a 10 year crediting period beginning 2009. The proposed project includes two MSW processing plants at Okhla and Timarpur. The Okhla plant will also include a 16MW power plant using RDF and biogas derived from waste to be used as fuel for renewable power. Average RDF is about 225 TPD at both locations. A biomethantion plant with 100TPD capacity is also planned at Okhla in New Delhi. A significant point to note is that in India, income from CERs are not taxed. They wish to receive CERs for this project to earn revenue by selling those CERs.

The central problem with the Timarpur proposal is that waste burning technology cannot automatically be deemed a renewable energy project. If anything, MCD and TWMCPL's attempt to classify the WTE plant as a CDM project is far fetched and misleading. Waste incineration is itself a greenhouse gas emitter and cannot qualify as CDM project. Incineration of waste violates Kyoto Protocol because as per the Protocol waste incineration is a green house gas emitter.

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows industrialised countries to meet their emission reduction targets by paying for green house gas emission reduction in developing countries. Say that a company in India switches from coal power to biomass and that the CDM board certifies that by doing this, the company has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 100,000 tonnes per year. The company will be issued 100,000 Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs). One CER corresponds to reduced green house gas emissions by one tonne of carbon dioxide per year.

For example, if a project generates energy using wind power instead of burning coal, and saves 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, it can claim 50 CERs.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, for instance the United Kingdom (a developed country) has to reduce its green house gas emissions by 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Continuing with the example above, if the UK purchases the 100,000 CERs from the Indian company, its target goes down from 1 million tonnes/year to 900,000 tonnes per year, making the goal that much easier to achieve. Developed countries are expected to buy CERs from developing countries under the CDM process to help them achieve their Kyoto targets. CERs are therefore a "certificate", like a stock and help achieve trading of emissions credits.


Anonymous said…
Aqaba Express has been renamed a MV Al Arabia. Following an alert by Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Indian Express reported on 6th November, 2007, "Another ship docks in Alang, another toxic, asbestos alert"

Close on the heels of the Blue Lady controversy, another ship has landed in Alang to be dismantled.

This time, the UN’s Basel Secretariat has written to the Indian Government warning that the ship, Aqaba Express, containing asbestos and other hazardous material may be on its way to shipbreaking yards. The ship anchored in Alang on October 27.

The letter from the UN says that the vessel was arrested in Spain for operating under a certificate that indicated it was on a final voyage for demolition in either Alang or Chittagong. “The results of the lab tests showed that the vessel contains hazardous substances such as asbestos and PCB. However, the ship was subsequently allowed to leave upon issuance of new documentation that showed it was en route to Romania for refurbishment,” says the letter.

When the letter was written on October 2, the ship had crossed the Suez Canal and was in the Indian Ocean. Built in 1975, it was earlier called Beni Ansar. It’s registered in Moroni in Comoros, off the coast of Africa. The Basel Secretariat has asked the government to ensure that the standards of the Basel Convention are met. According to this, the ship must receive “Prior Informed Consent” as a notification indicating that it does not contain hazardous substances. This requires sampling and testing of onboard materials. This ship has none of these. The owner of the yard where the ship has beached was unable for comment.

In the last two years, this is the third large vessel to land. First was Le Clemenceau, recalled by France, then came Blue Lady. The Supreme Court passed an order on Sept 6 laying strict guidelines for dismantling of ships in Alang.

Lawyer of Aqaba Express says that the owner has been required to give
guarantee enough that the ship will go to Constanza. About this, they said, /Guarantee enough is an absolutly abstract term, without legal definition so they understand that guarantee enough is:
/ * /Repairing contract.../
* /Classification certificate, in the annex of which is mentioned
that the ship is authorised to go to Romania/

And they add:
/"It must be taken into account that not to comply the contract by the owners will allow the repairing company to start a legal case in London, under English legislation. So the owner has no intention to break the contract......"/
/"The State which flagged the ship, through the Classification
Certificate allows the ship to go to Romania, and this should be
understood as guarantee given by a sovereign state..."/.
Anonymous said…
Shipload of trouble

The Blue Lady case is a litmus test of the Indian government’s stand on hazardous wastes.

Controversy is not new to Blue Lady. The 76,049-tonne luxury liner, formerly known as SS Norway and before that SS France, was once the largest passenger ship in the world and has a colourful history.

The ship’s first encounter with controversy was in 1974 when trade unionists commandeered it in an attempt to prevent its sale and also to secure wage increases for the crew. The bid failed and the ship was sold. The following years saw more controversies as the ship aged and its owners thought of ways to make it more profitable.

In 2003, a boiler explosion on the now renamed SS Norway killed seven of its crew and injured 17 in the port of Miami. That was the final straw. The ship was withdrawn and towed first to Germany and then to an anchorage off Port Klang in Malaysia. This was the beginning of the controversy that continues to dog the ship even as it lies beached at Alang in Gujarat.

When a ship leaves a port of origin it is mandatory for the master to present the onward plan. The plan given by SS Norway was that it was being taken to Malaysia to be made into a floating hotel. This, Gopal Krishna of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) says, was “clearly fraudulent [considering the severity of the boiler explosion on the 44-year-old vessel]”. But the German port authorities did not challenge it. By now, the ship had changed ownership from Norwegian Cruise Lines to Haryana Ship Demolition Pvt. Ltd. This in itself is an indication that the floating hotel plan was merely a charade. But this was probably not known at the time since it was a proxy buyer who bought the ship.

The ship left German waters in May 2005 and docked in Malaysia. Then it left for Dubai, citing a need for repairs, but actually moved towards Bangladesh where it was refused entry. It was then steered towards India in May 2006, but a timely application in the Supreme Court by Gopal Krishna prevented it from entering Indian waters. With the impending monsoon, the ship’s owners (Haryana Ship Demolition Pvt. Ltd.) pleaded humanitarian grounds and the Court permitted anchorage at Pipavav port near Alang. After getting this permission, the ship sailed to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and returned after 25 days. What it did in that period remains a mystery. On its return it was beached at Alang.

The Supreme Court had given it permission only to anchor off Pipavav for the monsoon and not for beaching. The contention that a beached ship cannot be refloated has been contested in a letter sent by the U.S.-based Crowley Maritime Corporation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, offering to refloat the vessel.

The master of Blue Lady had given a false declaration saying that there were no hazardous materials when there were 1,100 locations on the ship that held radioactive matter. Blue Lady had close to 1,700 tonnes of hazardous material – two and a half times more than that in the aircraft carrier Clemenceau, which France recalled in February 2006 from Alang, says Gopal Krishna. Besides, the ship did not carry papers saying it had been decontaminated. This should have sufficed to send the ship back since India is a signatory to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

Proxy buying is a common business in shipping. It is a convenient loophole that permits both seller and buyer to evade laws that would result in huge expenses. In the case of Blue Lady, were it to be dismantled, the owners would have had to decontaminate the ship in Germany itself under the Basel Convention. However, decontamination in Europe of a ship the size of Blue Lady would have cost nearly 30 million euros, according to reliable estimates.

In August 2006, Norwegian Cruise Lines sold the ship to Bridgend Shipping of Monrovia for scrapping. The ship was renamed Blue Lady. The bill of sale says the vessel was sold for $10! The ship was to go to Bangladesh for scrapping but the government in Dhaka refused entry because of the vast amount of asbestos on board. It was then sold to Haryana Ship Demolition Pvt. Ltd., which claimed to be the bona fide owner but could not show documents of proof. In July 2006, the ship was sold to its current owner, Priya Blue Industries Pvt. Ltd. in Alang, which, too, has been unable to produce the papers of ownership.

Clemenceau’s sale was also supposed to have been via the proxy buyer system but in this case it failed. A particular clause in the proxy system says that ownership will be transferred after dismantling. The benefit of this clause extends to both the buyer and the seller. If the buyer manages to break the ship, well and good; if he does not, then it returns to the port of origin. The basic idea is to avoid the heavy cost of decontaminating a ship in a Western port of origin. An owner who has to do this attaches the cost he has borne to the sale price when he sells a ship to a ship-breaker. Thus it is suitable to both the seller and the buyer to try and evade decontamination in Western countries.

The proxy buyer comes in at this point. Simply put, the proxy buyer permits a shipowner to dump a vessel without the onus of decontamination costs. This is how it worked for Blue Lady. Norwegian Cruise Lines sold SS Norway to Bridgend for a ridiculous amount, but there is no way to find fault with Norwegian Cruise Lines since it can sell its ship for whatever price it chooses. Of course, it does not take much imagination to figure out that the real price is paid off the record, which explains why proxy buyers are also known as cash buyers.

Once the deal is made, the proxy buyer usually changes the ship’s name so that the original owner can further distance himself from the affair. In this case, SS Norway became Blue Lady. The next step towards dismantling was easier – Bridgend sold the ship to Haryana Ship Demolition, which in turn sold it to Priya Blue. Thus, the role of the proxy buyer is primarily to enable shipowners to keep their reputation and also avoid the cost of decontamination.

Now that Blue Lady is beached and the Supreme Court has permitted its dismantling, a 12-point guideline for worker safety has to be adhered to. This includes procedures for decontamination and correct disposal of toxic waste. Dismantling has not yet started because the ship-breaker has not been able to comply with all the requirements.

It is estimated that Blue Lady has close to 1,700 tonnes of waste such as asbestos, asbestos containing material (ACM) and radioactive material, namely Americium-241. Even its owner Priya Blue confirms this. According to the United States Environment Protection Agency, Americium-241 can stay in the human body for decades if ingested or inhaled or if there is direct external exposure to its alpha particles and gamma rays. Exposure to Americium-241 poses a cancer risk.

It is now acknowledged that dismantling of ships has effects that go far beyond causing harm to those who are in immediate contact with the materials. Air, surface water, groundwater and soil have been contaminated over the decades. Local villagers have decided that enough is enough. Bhagvatsinh Haluba Gohil, sarpanch of Sosiya village in Bhavnagar district, and the sarpanches of 12 other villages, have filed an application in the Supreme Court to halt the dismantling of Blue Lady, on behalf of 30,000 villagers who live within 25 km of Alang.

They argue that “the dismantling of the ship would have hazardous effect on the residents of the villages near the Alang ship-breaking yard as the ship contains large amounts of asbestos”. They have submitted that Rule 12 (i) of the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, bans the import of asbestos. The court is yet to deal with the application.

“We don’t want to stop ship-breaking because that would mean loss of jobs for hundreds of people. All we are asking is that it be done in a responsible manner and our lives and earnings are not affected,” says Gohil.


A decommissioned ship being dismantled at Alang. Local people say that the work at Alang has contaminated air, water and soil.

He adds that the open dumping of waste into the sea has affected the fishing community too. “Fishermen are forced to go out into the sea beyond five or six kilometres because of the waste oil that spreads over the water and ruins their fishing,” Gohil says.

Speaking to Frontline, Gohil explained what prompted the villagers to take the legal step. “For the past 15 to 20 years we have been noticing a diminishing of our crop. It has not been easy to pinpoint this but we have now come to the conclusion that it is related to air, water and soil contamination brought on by the work at Alang.”

The livelihood of the villages comes primarily from horticulture, and Gohil says that the trees are now far more susceptible to insect attacks than before. He says farmers’ expenses in the purchase of pesticides have gone up considerably.

Years of ship-breaking in Alang has meant that the toxic materials have slowly leached into the ground. Gopal Krishna says the report of the Technical Experts Committee on Hazardous Wastes relating to Ship-breaking confirm that the groundwater in Alang is heavily polluted. This admission by an official report is part of the irony of the fight against hazardous waste. On the one hand the government accepts that material like asbestos are hazardous to health and the environment but, on the other hand, the policies of the government do not reflect this concern.

Vidyut Joshi, the former Vice-Chancellor of Bhavnagar University, has made a study of ship-breaking in Alang. His conclusion is that it should not be the business of the Gujarat Maritime Board to supervise industry operations at Alang. This should be given to the Industries Department, which is better equipped in terms of skills to handle labour issues, detection of hazardous materials, and so on. The present system has the Maritime Board subcontracting everything to consultants.

The Blue Lady case will be a sort of litmus test not only for the Indian government’s stand on hazardous waste but also for Europe. At present the position of both is suspect.

Earlier, Clemenceau was allowed into Indian waters though it had flouted Indian laws. France recalled the ship only because of intense public and legal pressures in that country. Last year, the Riky, another asbestos-laden vessel, left Danish waters under misrepresentation and was dismantled in Alang. The Danish government is pursuing the matter and has initiated criminal proceedings against its owner.

This is in direct contrast to the reaction of the German government, which has refused to take any responsibility for Blue Lady. The ship left German waters under conditions that could have been (but were not) challenged by the German government, and now Germany is refusing to accept any responsibility for the ship, saying it is not a state-owned vessel as Clemenceau was. This is irrelevant since the Basel Convention dictates terms on the basis of the hazardous nature of the waste and not on the basis of ownership.

Anonymous said…
Spain writes to India on toxic-laden ship

Archana Jyoti

New Delhi: A few days after United Nations (UN) officials alerted India about the November 16 resence of a toxic-laden ship MV AI Arabia at a Gujarat port, Spain too expressed similar apprehension, saying that the vessel has reached there "illegally". In a letter written to the Department of Shipping, the Spanish Ministry of Public Works and Economy said the ship had been officially dispatched in August from the port of Almeria (Spain) to Constanza (Romania) where it was to undergo repairing. However, the ship has reached the port of Alang awaiting breaking since October, he said.

The Spanish Ministry further pointed out the ship was subjected to a detailed inspection in the maritime district of Almeria prior to receiving permission to sail. "The objective was to check the navigability and safety conditions of the ship and to prevent possible contamination," the letter said.

However, subsequent monitoring of the ship detected its course had changed, said the letter adding that "it appears that during the journey the ship has twice changed the name, firstly to the 'Aquaba Express' and most recently to 'AI Arabia'. The Spanish Ministry has also offered to provide information about the vessel, which it said may be required "in view of the potential problems which may arise from the irregular conduct of the ship." (PTI)

November 17, 2007
Headlines Today
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