India dumping ground for toxic waste
The poor countries come handy for countries like Germany and Greece to circumvent international laws. The catch being that international laws prevent 'the rich' from shipping their hazardous waste directly to India. 'The poor' are not barred from dealing in this lucrative international scrap trade with another 'poor country'.
On record, India has got ships from countries like Bermuda, Panama and even land-locked Mongolia to dismantle at Asia's biggest ship breaking yard, Alang.
The latest in the list is the "Al Arabia" alias "Beni Ansar" alias "Aquaba Express" that beached at India in October 2007 despite warnings from the UN Environmental Programme that the ship was being illegally taken to India.
The ship came carrying the flag of the obscure Comoros Island. "Al Arabia" is just one example of the modus operandi the rich OECD countries use to circumvent the international Basel Convention and their own strict environmental laws.
The convention bans any movement of hazardous waste from the developed countries to developing countries without prior consent.
Ship owners from rich countries instead find the convenient route out by buying a 'flag of convenience' for their discarded ship by registering them in countries like Liberia, St Vincent, Grena-dines, landlocked Mongolia and Tuvalu, which make a quick buck in return. The ships then sail off to the breaking yards in countries like India.
Even the radioactive material-carrying "Blue Lady" alias "SS Norway" was sold to an Indian company through a company based in Monrovia, Liberia — more known for its trade in blood diamonds.
The "Blue Lady" was more than a 2,000 plus capacity luxury cruise liner run by the world famous Star Cruise Limited. But after it became unusable, it shipped through various countries before being 'officially' sold to a company based in Liberia for a mere US $10. Sailing under the Liberian flag, it was sold to an Indian company helping the original owners circumvent the Basel Convention.
"Many of these ships change hands several times flipping their flags of convenience making it impossible to trace the original owner even in case of any accident or liability arises," said a senior ship breaking industry official.
Liability can arise out of the dangerous chemicals that they come laden with without notice decontaminating which has got Alang one of the worst labour accident records in the world. The "Al Arabia", still beached in Alang, contains hazardous substances like asbestos and cancer causing polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs that take very long to decompose in the environment.
"The flags of convenience are a big issue in the shipping industry and the government is finding it tough to tackle. In fact, there are several ships that have got wrecked off the coast of India over the past years that the government cannot trace the owners of," the industry expert told TOI.
Sources in Gujarat said that more than 75% of the ships that have been broken down in Alang over the past five years have come under a flag of convenience. The director-general of Shipping is now slated to hold a meeting in February to address the issue of tracking the owners of wrecked and other ships where the issue of flags of convenience is expected to come up again.
The Times of India
5 Feb 2008