December 12, 2005

Shipbreaking May Have Killed Thousands: Greenpeace

NEW DELHI -- Environmental group Greenpeace said on Monday thousands of workers involved in the shipbreaking industry are likely to have died over the past two decades due to accidents or exposure to toxic waste on the ships.

At the global release of a report titled "End of Life Ships -- The Human Cost of Breaking Ships," the organization said steps must be taken to ensure that established safety guidelines are observed by all parties involved in the industry.

"India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China and Turkey are the homes to the world's shipbreaking facilities," said the report, prepared by Greenpeace and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

"Every year the shipping industry sends around 600 ships of all types to be dismantled on their beaches. The yards provide work, directly or indirectly, to thousands of people. Yet working at a shipbreaking yard is a dirty and dangerous job."

The organisations said as per their estimates, every year hundreds of workers become victims of accidents at shipbreaking yards or fall sick breathing toxic fumes.

"Greenpeace and FIDH estimate that the total death toll of shipbreaking practices in the world over the last 20 years might be in the thousands," the report said.

It added if workers were not dying or getting seriously injured in accidents, they suffered a big risk of falling ill or dying from toxic-waste-related diseases often because the ships were being sent for scrap without removing toxic waste.

"At the yard and in their sleeping quarters, they breathe toxic fumes and asbestos dust," the report said.

Greenpeace India official Shailendra Yashwant said the Indian government was lax in letting in ships with toxic waste.

"The Indian government is making our borders porous and is violating the Basel Convention," he said.

"End-of-life ships should be treated like any other toxic material under the internationally recognized Basel Convention which bans the dumping of such waste by OECD countries in non-OECD countries."