Friday, April 27, 2012

Exxon Valdez Still Creating Controversy Even as She is Slated for Demolition

Ship breakers at work. You will notice the lack of tools - these ships are broken down literally by hand. Photo courtesy: Jim Brickett/CC BY-ND 2.0

It's the end of an era, yet continuing on the same tack at the same time: The Exxon Valdez, yes the same ship that caused the iconic massive oil spill in Alaska after it ran aground, is heading to India to be broken down, after being formally retired from service earlier this year. But as Business Line reports even as it nears death (as it were), there's still a good deal of controversy around the ship.

ToxicWatch Alliance is objecting to the ship being granted permission to land at the Alang shipbreaking grounds in Gujarat, India. TWA reports that the ship is currently about 12 miles off Mumbai, halted by a Supreme Court decision.

TWA says the ship poses an environmental threat due the presence of asbestos and PCBs in the ship.

There is no picture that can adequately depict the extent of the sheer horror of the ship-breaking yards. Toxins fill the air, water, land; and, even the workers. These poor, desperate workers live in such abject poverty that even working in a toxic soup breaking apart ships with their bare hands is preferable to starving to death slowly.

At least part of the objections raised are about the conditions in which ships in general are broken down in India as the Exxon Valdez itself:
Mr Krishna [from TWA] said apart from the threat to the marine ecology, workers too faced grave danger. “Workers labour on tidal sands to cut ships up by hand, exposing themselves to the risk of toxic chemicals, fires, explosions and falling steel plates,” he said, and added that dismantling the hazardous vessel could not be achieved on a tidal beach, as was currently being done.

Though this photo is from shipbreaking grounds in Bangladesh, it is an essentially similar situation in Gujarat. Ships are run aground and then broken down by teams of workers, with the metal being recovered. Photo courtesy: Naquib Hossain /CC BY-SA 2.0

TWA says that since the 1980s more than 5000 foreign ships have been processed in the Alang yards, causing harm to the nearby marine environment. As responsible countries (the USA, Canada, European countries, etc), we should not allow ships to be sold to these firms.

Allowing unskilled workers to be exposed to the toxins in these leaking hulks is totally inexcusable under any circumstances; not to mention, the pollution that is leaking into the oceans. There is no concrete barrier protecting each countries' water from the pollution in another country's water. What ends up in the water in India will eventually end up back on our doorstep.

For those that don't know, for many years the Alang shipbreaking yards were a "de facto" photographers' tourist attraction. You could enter the yards and photograph the work relatively freely. It's a very dramatic scene. But since alarms were raised about the effect of the work on the environment and the hazardous conditions for the workers, access is much more strictly controlled.

As point of fact, the Exxon Valdez had not actually gone by that name for some time. Since the oil spill in 1989, the vessel had gone through many name changes, the last being the Oriental Nicety, after it was purchased for scrap metal (for the second time) in Singapore by an Indian firm.

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