Even as there is an ongoing war of words between environmentalists , authorities and trade over entry into Indian waters and subsequent dismantling of some ships which are controversial in nature and content, the country's ship-breaking industry is busy sealing its current position as world's top shipbreaking nation.
In 2011-12 ,India reclaimed its lost position as the world's largest ship-breaking nation with its yards in Alang and elsewhere demolishing 415 ships. According to industry sources, another 150 plus vessels are waiting for their turn at the dismantling units.
While Pakistan emerged as the second largest ship-breaking country, Bangladesh and China took the third and fourth positions, respectively. Though Bangladesh used to filch the top slot in ship-breaking till recently , the industry in the neighbouring country is yet to find its feet as social and political pressures have dislodged its working in full form.
"We do not really know what is happening on the government front about its response to European Union's proposal to change ship recycling regulations ," said a ship-breaker from Alang. "The industry is doing pretty good,thanks to large supply of vessels for breaking.The dollar appreciation against Rupee did not impact much of the business," he added.
However, the trade body that he is a member,Iron Steel Scrap & Shipbreakers Association of India (ISSAI) said that the government has contacted industry stakeholders for their comments on the various changes proposed by the EU.
In its reply to the ministry of steel,which is the focal ministry for ship-breaking in the country, ISSAI said that India should strongly oppose the proposed EU Regulations on export of ships for recycling. 'First and foremost it infringes the sovereign rights of India in controlling an industrial activity on its soil," noted the letter.
It also reminded the government that the industry has always maintained that the IMO Hong Kong Convention on Ship Recycling, which the EU is strongly supporting, eventually intends to do away with the economical 'beaching' method followed by India in ship recycling .
According to local breakers, whether it is EU flagged ships or any other ship dismantled in Indian ship recycling yard, all are subject to local regulations, including Supreme Court directives . Substantial improvements have already been made at Indian facilities.
"The industry is not against improvements. Additional requirements can be made through national laws but not by getting Indian ship recyclers registered with EU," said PS Nagarsheth,president of the association .
"Instead of improving the implementation and monitoring of their regulation, they have proposed the new regulation not to curb the loop holes but to give freedom for non compliance of the present regulation to ship owners. It is a clear attempt to pass responsibility of ship owners /EU citizens to non OECD countries/ship recyclers ," he added.
"They have no right to interfere in sovereign rights of other nations," said Mr Nagarsheth.
"It is a pretty difficult task for the authorities to play the balancing act when it comes to living upto International Conventions even as you play the supporting role to local industries ," was the cryptic reply that a shipping official could give when asked to comment.
Meanwhile, protests and demonstrations voice concerns of environmentalists and organizations against illegal entry into Indian waters or presence of controversial foreign vessels in Indian shores for demolition.
For example, in his letter to over a dozen government authorities , Gopal Krishna, convener of Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA), pointed to the illegal movement of end-of-life US ship Exxon Valdez in Indian waters. The Delhi-based environmental group keeps track, among other things, of corporate crimes and their impact on humans and ecosystem.
"... It is reliably learnt that the hazardous and end-of-life US vessel has got permission to anchor off Bhavnagar from Gujarat Maritime Board on June 28,2012.This vessel is moving to Bhavnagar in the name of inspection by the GMB and Gujarat Pollution Control Board. Its movement must be halted to demonstrate that Indian law enforcement agencies are not subservient to US Ship Disposal Policy."
He said its presence 'off Mumbai is a manifest act of illegality . The violation of Supreme Court's order, international law and the complicit violations of Indian laws and US law is on full display.'
According to him, another hazardous US ship, 'Delaware Trader' has been cleared by the US maritime administration for dismantling in the shipbreaking yards of Alang.
TWA demands that 'Delaware Trader' should not be allowed to enter Indian waters. These ships enter Indian waters and present fait accompli to the law enforcement agencies.