Toxic ship

A ship believed to be carrying toxic and radioactive waste and anchored some 40 nautical miles from the Alang coast in Gujarat could pose a deadly threat to marine ecosystems and human lives. Of US origin, the ship Platinum-II (formerly known as SS Independence and SS Oceanic) was penalised by the US Environmental Protection Agency for contamination. It was heading to the ship-breaking yard at Alang and is reported to be loaded with 210 tonnes of material contaminated with toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), besides tonnes of asbestos in its body. This is not the first time that a toxic ship headed for Alang has kicked up a controversy. In 2006, two French ships Clemenceau and Blue Lady were stopped for their toxic content. In a controversial decision, the supreme court allowed Blue Lady to be dismantled at Alang despite concerns over its lethal waste.

The Gujarat Pollution Control Board maintains that Platinum II does not pose any threat. Environmental experts disagree. A three-member team appointed by the Central government is investigating the level of toxicity of the vessel and will submit its report on Friday. Reports that the ship is leaking contaminated material into the sea have been found to be untrue.

India takes great pride in the Alang ship-breaking yard being the world’s largest. Indeed it is big business. It generates profits worth tens of thousands of crores.  However, it is time India paused and pondered over the costs incurred. Workers involved in ship-breaking are exposed to PCBs, asbestos, lead, waste oil and tributylin. A study of their health has revealed that 16 per cent suffer from an early stage of asbestosis, an irreversible lung condition that leads to cancer. Even if Platinum-II is not carrying radioactive substances, its asbestos is lethal. There will be pressure from vested interests to see that Platinum-II is dismantled at Alang, whatever the level of its toxicity. The health of workers and safety of environment, not profitability of the business should guide the government in determining the fate of the vessel and the future of the ship-breaking industry. Development of alternate occupations at Alang would free people of having to work in this hazardous industry.

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