Tricks of the trade

Feature story - 6 June, 2003
The ship breaking industry provides one of the clearest examples of exploiting the environment and workers for profit. But thanks to the exposure of this toxic trade and public pressure, the industry is slowly realising it must clean up its act. Help us maintain the pressure.

Workers at Alang shipbreaking yard.

When a ship reaches the end of its life it needs to be disposed of. For something which maybe several stories high, hundreds of metres long and full of various hazardous chemicals and explosive fuel/gases, this is not an easy job. Most shipping companies take the profitable option of selling the ships to scrap yards in Asia where ships are broken up on beaches by workers using their bare hands or minimal equipment. Hence the shipping company makes some easy money and dumps the pollution from the ship in the developing countries of Asia.

Some irresponsible shipping companies want to spread this toxic trade to Africa. The beautiful Bolama beach in the west African country of Guinea Bissau may soon be turned into a scrap yard for old toxic ships, threatening nature and the lives of local people. The beach is part of the Bijagos Archipelagos, classified as a Biosphere Reserve by United Nations (UNESCO). In May we started an online action to save the Bolama beach. It has already achieved an initial result: after receiving thousands of messages from concerned people from all over the world, UNESCO has sent a research mission to assess the situation. But continued pressure is necessary to make sure that UNESCO takes effective measures to protect Bolama Beach.

Send a message now to stop the nature reserve being turned into a scrap yard.

The companies behind this plan are some of the bad guys in the murky world of the shipping industry. To shine a light on the dirty business of selling ships for shipbreaking, we have developed a unique new web game:

See if you know 'the tricks of the trade'. You are the owner of the old ship "Rubbish Queen" and you have to get rid of it. Can you make as much profit as possible? Or do you care for the people and the environment? Try to do better than most current ship owners.


Every year the number of ships for scrap increases. It is estimated that by 2010, 3000 ships per year will be scrapped. To pressure the industry to reform we have put 50 ships heading for scrap under the spotlight. We asked the owners to commit to cleaning the toxic material from the ships before selling them for scrapping. Recently the first company from the list, American/Norwegian ship owner Stolt Nielsen, committed to prevent future pollution and health threats associated with the breaking of ships. The company has a history of dumping contaminated ships on Indian beaches. This company can prove that ships can be disposed of without harming the environment and endangering workers in the developing world.


Find out about the problems of shipbreaking and the solutions. Also in Francias, Nederlands.