Alang-bound ships change flags to dodge anti-dumping norms

More than 90 per cent of the 218 ships owned by European companies that were dismantled at Bhavnagar's Alang-Sosiya ship-recycling yard in 2012 flew flags of non-European countries, a list released this week by a Brussels-based agency shows.

Known as "flags of convenience" in maritime circles, this technique helps companies exploit a loophole in the international anti-dumping Basel Convention, which classifies end-of-life vessels as waste material and thus prohibits developed countries from sending them to developing countries for dismantling.

On the other hand, developing countries gain immense economic benefits from ship-recycling, which produces lakhs of tonnes of steel scraps annually, valuable furniture and work for tens of thousands, although safety and environment concerns have continuously been raised.

For example, Alang-Sosiya last year produced 3.8 million tonnes of steel scrap by dismantling 415 vessels. In the same period, however, 13 workers lost their lives, seven of them due to a single blast inside a ship that was being broken apart, reportedly because they used blowtorches in a compartment where they should have used wrenches.

The list of European ships dismantled in South Asian beaches, drawn up by a consortium of rights and labour groups across the world called NGO Shipbreaking Platform, shows 380 European vessels were dismantled at four South Asian ship-recycling yards ó Alang, Mumbai, Chittagong (Bangladesh) and Gadani (Pakistan). Of these, 240 were dismantled in India.

Of the 218 ships dismantled at Alang, 199 flew non-European flags such as those of Panama, Comoros, Solomon Islands, Malta, Liberia, Tuvalu, Bahamas, Marshall Islands, Egypt, Cyprus, St Kitts-Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda and St Vincent & Grenadines. All 22 ships dismantled at Mumbai flew non-European flags.

Official sources at Alang and in Gandhinagar confirmed the list appears accurate since European ships annually make up at least half of all vessels that beach in India, and that a majority fly non-European flags. Any ship's history can easily be traced using its International Maritime Organization registration number.

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