The Shipbreaking Industry
A Pulitzer-prize winning expose of the shipbreaking industry appeared in the Baltimore Sun between December 7-9, 1997. It presented a horrific picture of appalling conditions in Americaís depressed ports and Indian shipbreaking yards. The wholesale sell-off of obsolete warships by the US Navy has contributed to the growth of a flourishing industry which is often unregulated, unsupervised and plagued by official indifference. The reporters described: cover-ups at Terminal Island, California where twenty labourers were fired for informing federal investigators that asbestos was being improperly removed from Naval ships, contamination by asbestos, oil and lead of a riverside scrapyard in Wilmington, North Carolina, attempts orchestrated by employers to hide asbestos from inspectors in a derelict barge in Baltimore and workers on-board the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea stripping asbestos insulation with their bare hands. Fermin Castillo, a worker at Baltimoreís Seawitch Salvage yard, said: "There was asbestos all around us. At first they just stacked it on top of the ship. There was always a lot of dust in the air." Conditions in Brownsville, Texas, where the nearest government enforcement officials are hundreds of miles away, are notorious; the predominantly Latino workforce, desperate for work, remains uninformed of the risks. Pedro Rios, a steel-cutter for more than twenty years, says: "Itís out of need we do this. I got this job because I donít know how to read or write. You could say this is a job for the dumb." The conditions in eleven salvage yards in Alang, Suchana and Darukhana, India are, if possible, even worse. The $500 million industry employs forty thousand men, many of whom work for $1.50 a day. Along the beach in Alang, tankers, freighters, destroyers and fish processors from all over the world are scrapped by men wearing sandals and scarves rather than respirators and protective clothing.
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August 30, 2001