Ship breaking – Ship scrap yards and their role in marine industry


If you see most of the modern ships, you will find that none of them is smaller in size than a football field. There are also ships that are of size equal to that of 2-3 football fields taken together with tall skyscrapers build on them. So where do these huge floating structures go when they are declared un-seaworthy or have completed their time at sea? Are they kept at museums or just left stranded at the sea? Are they kept docked and unused at some unknown harbor or are there specially made ports like garages to park them?

If any of the above question would have an answer in yes, then the oceans would have become graveyards or dumping grounds by now. Thus the need arose to re-cycle and break down the old un-seaworthy ships. If we take the statistics, America alone has 130 old ships waiting on its ports to get scrapped. Ship breaking is not an easy task and by looking at the sizes of the ships nowadays, i bet you too would agree with that.

Ship breaking is no small business. Not less than 600 ships are scrapped and re-cycled each year through out the world. It is predicted that by 2010, around 4000 ships will be dismantled every year. Thats’s a huge number, keeping in mind the sizes of the ships. So how are these huge structures scrapped into small pieces? Let’s find out.

ship breaking

Why break down the ships?

Classification societies claim that more than 1000 ships get registered at each registration society every year. This means that thousands of ships are churned out of the shipping yards through out the world with each ship having a life expectancy of 25-30 years. If the ships that are done with their time are not taken off the sea, then within few years even the 70 % of the earth’s water bodies will not suffice the number of ships produced. Thus to prevent the population explosion of ships, ship breaking is essential.

There is a commercial aspect to this too! Ship recycling industry has also seen a rise due to the increase in the international trade and global shipping. The industry also employes thousands of people for the process, increasing the overall employment quotient of the country. Moreover the material that is scrapped down during breaking is important to many onshore industries, such as rerolling steel plants. Most of the machinery of these ships are in proper working condition and are taken away by many companies at reduced rates. Thus the industry also acts as a potent market place for trading.


Where is Ship Breaking done?

Ship breaking is an expensive and difficult process that requires expertise skills and knowledge. Due to the sudden increase in the demand for the ship breaking industry the process has become extremely expensive in most of the developed countries. Due to this reason, the biggest ship breaking yards in the world are in the countries where the labor is highly skillful, and extremely cheap at the same time. India,China, Pakistan and Bangladesh are the major ship breaking countries that handle approximately 85% of the world’s ship breaking business.

Out of these countries, India is a major destination for ship recycling, with the world’s largest Ship breaking yard Alang on its western coast. This is because it makes a perfect combination of expertise skills and cheap labor. Also it makes an ideal ship breaking location because most of its ship yard has a high tidal range with 15-degree slope and mud free coasts that prevent grounding. These characteristics make it extremely easy for a ship, irrespective of any size, to beach on the coast.

In the next article we will learn how the dangerous task of ship breaking is carried out and what are the hazards related to it.



National geographic site

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