When ships reach the end of their operational lives, they are sent for scrapping, an extremely dangerous and environmentally unfriendly process. The vast majority of old and rusty tankers, freighters, cruise ships and the like end up on three beaches in South Asia where they are broken up. Numerous workers are killed in accidents during scrapping while the old ships are often responsible for toxic spills and pollution that cause irreparable damage to coastal ecosystems and local communities.
NGO Shipbreaking Platform has released new data showing that 674 ocean-going commercial vessels were sold to scrap yards last year, 469 of which were broken down on beaches in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. The good news is that the number of vessels being scrapped in such circumstances is falling, declining from 1,213 in 2013 to the 674 documented in 2019. The bad news is that 397 workers have died in shipbreaking yards since 2009 with at least 26 perishing last year alone. They died from various causes such as being hit by falling iron pieces, asphyxiation, burning, drowning, electrocution and falls.
The process also has long-term health effects on workers that survive as shipbreaking involves the inhalation of toxic fumes and materials that can lead to cancer and other diseases. In 2019, Bangladesh scrapped the most ships with 236, followed by India's 200 and Turkey's 107. The UAE was the top dumper in 2019 with 45 vessels, while Greece had 40 and the U.S. had 29.