2 June 2003
Ship being scrapped at Alang shipbreaking yard.
Two Asian representatives arrive in the Netherlands to
participate in a seminar on ship breaking. Mr Salim works at a
Bangladeshi breaking yard. Mr Shakir is a lawyer at the Supreme
Court in Bangladesh. The seminar 'Scrapping ships in Asia and
liability' is organised by Greenpeace and the International
Institute for Asia Studies in the Amsterdam Maritime Museum. It
attracts a mixed group of lawyers, shipbreakers, ship owners and
trade unions. But also Greenpeace campaigners, academics, students
and asbestos firms.
All participants express the hope that the current pollution and
high rate of accidents will end soon. As a first step mandatory
rules for all stakeholders involved should be set up. Mr Shakir
agrees as no country can solve the problem in splendid isolation.
Certainly not a developing country like Bangladesh. Mr Salim agrees
as he has experienced the dramatic consequences of the current
inaction when 'solutions' depend on the voluntary initiatives of
individual ship breakers and ship owners.
3 June 2003
Kumar, our Indian campaigner visits the Dutch Minister of
Environment. He frequently visits the shipbreaking yards in India.
Despite many promises and beautiful words by ship owners or their
organisations, he has not seen much improvement during the last
year. He has witnessed men in suits preparing documents and
voluntary guidelines. Meanwhile men on bare feet with cutting
torches go into ships that have explosive gases inside. The men in
suits talk diplomatic language but Ramapati has seen first hand the
remains of the people who die in explosions at the shipbreaking
The Dutch minister listens carefully. He wants an end to the
current status quo. However, most Dutch ship owners continue to
send ships to the breaking yards. They pay no attention to the
hazardous substances on board of their vessels, with the notable
exception of one company. Ramapati tells the minister there is only
one way to guarantee a better and cleaner future. All ship owners
should follow the same mandatory rules. The minister seems willing
to call on the Dutch Association of Ship Owners to co-operate.
After all he is responsible for the implementation of the Basel
Convention, which controls hazardous waste export from developed
countries, like the Netherlands, to developing countries such as
India and Bangladesh.
4 - 6 June 2003
Next stop is Greece. This country has a large commercial fleet.
Part of that fleet is in the hands of ship owners who fly their
national flag proudly. The rest choose a different flag for the
convenience of lax tax, safety and environmental controls. The
participants in the shipbreaking tour have mixed feelings about
visiting Greece. Only recently the 'Amina' - owned by the Greek
company Chandris - exploded in Alang. Ten people died.
In Greece Mr Ganguly plays an important role. He represents one
of the largest trade unions in India. In the 40 years of his work
he has met many industry leaders. But in Piraeus he is surprised:
all four ship owners he meets react in a different way. After the
meetings he compares the companies to the brothers of one family.
One brother is very defensive and will only follow the rules. If
there are no rules he will not take a single extra step, despite
the good and green reputation he is said to have. The other brother
might not have such a good reputation, but he clearly sees the need
for change. He is even willing to play a part in this change. A
third brother is outspoken in the need for change and is willing to
tell this to people outside the family as well. Another brother has
done good things in the past. Yet he is by nature inclined to wait
for further steps to be taken by the government and the IMO. 'The
family has not made up its mind yet', Mr Ganguly says. 'It takes a
good and wise father to keep the family intact and to move the
family forward. Maybe the Greek Minister of Mercantile Marine is a
wise man in this respect. Maybe he has the wisdom and authority to
move the family in the right direction.' During the meeting with
the Minister it seems there is a chance he will use his wisdom
wisely. Perhaps it is at the short-term detriment of one brother.
But it certainly is in the interest of the world outside this
7 - 8 June 2003
visiting Greece the representatives board a small Greenpeace vessel
for a couple of days. In the port of Antwerp, Belgium, they visit
several ships from a large variety of ship owners. Captains and
crew on board are informed about the current situation in India and
Bangladesh. They are asked to bring this to the attention of the
vessel's owner. After all, he needs to take appropriate action. One
of the ship owners is Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). The
safety and environment manager of MSC seems quite willing to listen
to the demands. Next week there will be a meeting with the
company's top managers in Switzerland. What will their decisions
mean for the people and environment in India and Bangladesh?
Discover what reception awaits the team in Switzerland and how they get a slap in the face in London. All in Part 2.
These diaries are published in full on our shipbreaking site.
Find out about the problems of
shipbreaking and the solutions. Also in Francias,