Ship breaking

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"Ship breaker" redirects here. For the novel by Paolo Bacigalupi, see Ship Breaker.
Ship breaking in Chittagong, Bangladesh
Ship breaking in Chittagong, Bangladesh
Ship breaking in Chittagong, Bangladesh
Dismantling of Redoutable in Toulon, 1912

Ship breaking or ship demolition is a type of ship disposal involving the breaking up of ships for scrap recycling. Other names given to the activity of breaking ship into smaller pieces to recycle various materials include ship dismantling, ship cracking, ship recycling, ship disposal, etc. Most ships have a lifespan of a few decades before there is so much wear that refitting and repair become uneconomical. Ship breaking allows materials from the ship, especially steel, to be recycled. Equipment on board the vessel can also be reused.

As an alternative to ship breaking, ships are also sunk to make artificial reefs after being cleaned up. Other possibilities are floating (or land-based) storage.

History and transition[edit]

Until the late 20th century, ship breaking took place in port cities of industrialized countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. Today, ships are broken down mostly in developing countries, due to lower labor costs and less stringent environmental regulations on the disposal of toxic substances such as lead paint and asbestos. Those "breakers" that still remain in the United States work primarily on government surplus vessels. Some breakers operate in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and specialize in tankers. China used to be an important player in ship breaking in the 1990s.[citation needed]


Ships are typically disassembled on gently sloping sandy beaches, where vessels to be broken are beached, usually deliberately, although the sizable ship breaking industry of Bangladesh traces its origin to a ship beached accidentally there during a cyclone. Maneuvering a large ship onto a beach at high speed takes skill and daring, and is not always successful.[1]

Health and environmental risks[edit]

In addition to steel and other useful materials, ships (particularly older vessels) can contain many substances that are banned or considered dangerous in developed countries.[citation needed] Asbestos[2] and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are typical examples. Asbestos was used heavily in ship construction until it was finally banned in most of the developed world in the mid-1980s. Currently, the costs associated with removing asbestos, along with the potentially expensive insurance and health risks, have meant that ship breaking in most developed countries is no longer economically viable. Removing the metal for scrap can potentially cost more than the value of the scrap metal itself. In the developing world, however, shipyards can operate without the risk of personal injury lawsuits or workers' health claims, meaning many of these shipyards may operate with high health risks. Protective equipment is sometimes absent or inadequate. Dangerous vapors and fumes from burning materials can be inhaled, and dusty asbestos-laden areas are commonplace.[2] In the Chittagong Ship Breaking yard, a local watchdog group claims that one worker dies a week on average.[3] According to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, workers who attempt to unionize are terminated and then blacklisted.[4]

In recent years, ship breaking has become an issue of environmental concern beyond the health of the yard workers. Many ship breaking yards operate in developing nations with lax or no environmental law, enabling large quantities of highly toxic materials to escape into the general environment and causing serious health problems among ship breakers, the local population, and wildlife.[5] Environmental campaign groups such as Greenpeace have made the issue a high priority for their activities.[6]

List of ship breaking yards[edit]

The following are some of world's largest ship breaking yards:






United States[edit]

See also[edit]

Ship breaking yards


Further reading[edit]

  • Langewiesche, William (2004). The Outlaw Sea: Chaos and Crime on the World's Oceans. London: Granta Books. ISBN 0-86547-581-4.  Contains an extensive section on the shipbreaking industry in India and Bangladesh.
  • Buxton, Ian L. (1992). Metal Industries: shipbreaking at Rosyth and Charlestown. World Ship Society. p. 104. OCLC 28508051.  Ships scrapped include Mauretania and much of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow. Ships listed with owners and dates sold.
  • Buerk, Roland (2006). Breaking Ships: How supertankers and cargo ships are dismantled on the shores of Bangladesh. Chamberlain brothers. p. 192. ISBN 1-59609-036-7.  Breaking Ships follows the demise of the Asian Tiger, a ship destroyed at one of the twenty ship-breaking yards along the beaches of Chittagong. BBC Bangladesh correspondent Roland Buerk takes us through the process-from beaching the vessel to its final dissemination, from wealthy shipyard owners to poverty-stricken ship cutters, and from the economic benefits for Bangladesh to the pollution of its once pristine beaches and shorelines.
  • Bailey, Paul J. (2000). "Is there a decent way to break up ships?". Sectoral Activities Programme. International Labour Organization. Retrieved 2007-05-29. 
  • Rousmaniere, Peter (2007). "Shipbreaking in the Developing World: Problems and Prospects". International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.  Analysis of the economics of shipbreaking, the status of worldwide reform efforts, and occupational health and safety of shipbreaking including results of interviewing Alang shipbreakers.
  • Siddiquee, N.A. 2004. Impact of ship breaking on marine fish diversity of the Bay of Bengal.DFID SUFER Project, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 46 pp.
  • Siddiquee, N. A., Parween, S., and Quddus, M. M. A., Barua, P., 2009 ‘Heavy Metal Pollution in sediments at ship breaking area of Bangladesh ‘Asian Journal of Water, Environment and Pollution, 6 (3) : 7-12

External links[edit]