By Niranjan Shah
My dear Nikita and Sanjna:
Alang, located on the western coast of Gulf of Khambhat (Cambay), in the western part of India, is the largest ship-recycling yard in the world. Ever since its inception in 1982, Alang has emerged as one of the choicest ship-scrapping destinations for the ship owners around the world. Hundreds of ships from all over the world find their final resting place in Alang every year. At Alang in the state of Gujarat, ships are beached up to the yard because of its peculiar marine conditions and high tide. Such conditions are not available at other ship-breaking countries where the ship does not come up to the yard. They lighten the ships on the seabed and the pieces are pulled to the yard. Once the ship is lightened, it is brought to the yard. Lightening of the ship on the seabed is dangerous as far as oil pollution is concerned in case of tankers. Beaching method in ship breaking has to be continued, as it is most economical and practical. All the major ship-breaking countries presently follow this method.
Ships are mobile structures of comprehensive size and consist mostly of steel. At the end of their active life, they become a sought-after source of ferrous scrap. This acts as an alternative to the non-renewable resource of ore and is particularly suited for the production of simple steel products. Obsolete vessels available for scrapping may also represent a useful source of supply for second hand equipment and components.
The importance of ship- breaking as a potential source of raw material for the re-rollers was recognized in early 1980s. As a result, import of ships for breaking was accelerated. Prior to 1979 the ship-breaking activities in India was limited to breaking of barges, small sized ships and casualty ships. It was concentrated in two major parts namely Mumbai and Calcutta.
Due to increase in trend of import of ships for breaking in India, an emphasis was laid to examine various sites suitable for this activity. Amongst various methods of ship- breaking, the beaching method depends on skilful harnessing of zero cost tidal energy at sheltered coastal locations and warrants the least capital investment. Considering the favorable parameters for beaching method like high tidal range, firm seabed, gentle seaward slope, etc., it was decided to set up a ship breaking yard on the western coast of Gulf of Cambay near Alang village. The first vessel — mv Kota Tenjong was beached at Alang on February 13, 1983. Since then, the yard has witnessed spectacular growth and has emerged as a leading ship-breaking yard in the world.
Breaking of ships on such a large scale would obviously necessitate extensive care on issues like physical and social infrastructure, worker safety and welfare, environment management, establishment of down stream and ancillary industries, etc. These involve not only the financial resources but also many others influencing factors viz. proper knowledge base, compatibility of mindset between workers and the ship recyclers, availability of land and negotiation skills for legal issues. GMB as a regulator has put in sincere efforts to develop above requirements to accelerate the growth of this industry.
There are 173 plots to carry out the ship-recycling activities. This activity forms an industry by itself, as it provides around 30,000 jobs in Alang itself and generates millions of tons of steel every year. That too, with minimum consumption of electricity. If we examine these bare facts from the ecological point of view, it amounts to saving of huge amount of non-cyclic and precious mineral reserves like coal, petroleum, etc. It is, therefore, one of the most lucrative industries contributing to ecological balance. Millions of tons of steel are recycled by re-rolling mills. Many mechanical spares find their applications in one way or other. Various electrical components hold special value for the fixed set of customers. And the list goes on.
— Grandpa’s blessing