Alang-Sosiya in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district – home to the world’s largest stretch of ship-breaking facilities – beached 187 ships for recycling in FY21 compared to 202 ships in the previous year, as the ship dismantling activity was hit by the pandemic-induced lockdown.

Despite the health crisis, one of the world’s top ship recyclers benefited from the green recycling policies of global shipowners for their end-of-life ships.

Currently, more than 90 of the 120 working plots at Alang-Sosiya are certified for compliance with the green recycling standards prescribed by the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, adopted by the International Maritime Organisation in 2009.

“Alang managed to get steady business despite the pandemic,” said Anand Hiremath, Head, Research and Development and Lead Coordinator, Responsible Ship Recycling at Global Marketing Systems, Inc, (GMS), the world’s biggest cash buyer of ships for demolition.

“More than 90 green recycling facilities in Alang is the main reason for this as ship-owners with HKC compliant recycling policies for their end-of-life ships recycled their tonnage in India, as Bangladesh has only one green recycling yard and Pakistan has no green recycling yard till date,” he added.

The 187 ships beached in FY21 would translate into a light displacement tonnage (LDT) of 17,60,641 compared to 16,22,800 LDT in FY20, said Uday Bhatt at the Ship Recycling Industries’ Association (India).

Light displacement tonnage refers to the weight of a ship's hull, machinery, equipment and spares and form the basis on which ships are usually sold for scrap.

In the wake of the pandemic, Alang was hit by an exodus of migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, who make up for some 80 per cent of the 20,000 workers directly employed in the ship-breaking plots.

Ship recycling yards ground to a halt in the first five months of FY21, only to pick up pace between October 2020 and January 2021.

While only four ships were beached in April 2020 and five in May, 15 were beached in October, 19 in November, 28 in December, 26 in January, 12 in February and 10 in March.

Ironically, of the 187 ships beached in FY21, 41 were container ships, accounting for 22 per cent of the ships beached. The container ships were sold for scrapping in the beginning of the year due to low freight rates. But, since June 2021, rates for container shipping have soared on the back of an acute shortage of containers.

General cargo ships accounted for 7 per cent of the total ships beached in FY21, followed by chemical tankers and vehicle carriers at 6 per cent each, while tugs made up for 5 per cent.