The Shipbreakers of Alang

There’s this little piece of software/social networking/website recommendation engine/incredible time waster called StumbleUpon. You tell it what you’re interests are, and it finds applicable websites, blogs, images, videos, and so on. I like stumbling for photos, especially white sand beaches in Bora Bora just waiting for me to arrive and order a fruity drink.


But I digress.

Yesterday evening I decided to stumble about a bit, and the first site that came up was a photo essay about the Shipbreakers of Alang. Evidently this is the world’s leading site for shipbreaking, where huge tankers, container ships, and other ocean vessels are broken down to be recycled for scrap.

By “broken down” I mean with sledgehammers, saws, chisels, and bare hands, for the most part. These men work in unimaginably unsanitary, dangerous conditions, doing incredible physical labor for fourteen hours a day. They are exposed to toxic chemicals, life- and limb-threatening accidents, and infectious disease. Next time I feel put upon by some annoying part of my suburban, middle-class life as I lounge about on my comfy chair using my laptop, I’ll remember these people and get some perspective.

It’s hard to decide what to think about this. The men are freely choosing this work, and some say the wages are better than what they can get elsewhere. But the conditions are so horrible, and the environmental impact is potentially significant — not only are there absolutely no safety measures taken (some workers don’t even have shoes, no less hard hats), but their work releases petroleum products, asbestos, and other nasties directly into the air and sea onsite.

There is also worldwide concern that ship owners (and governments, particularly in the West) are knowingly violating international treaties and legislation designed to prevent transporting hazardous materials across international boundaries, particularly into the Third World. Other groups are working to solve associated human rights issues such as child labor and workers’ rights.

More information can be found here about these issues and proposed solutions.

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Photos by Gabuchan.

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6 Comments

Filed under computers, Politics

6 responses to “The Shipbreakers of Alang

  1. I’ve heard of that place – it’s amazing the lengths we’ll go to as nations to ship crap out of our own yards.

  2. Unfortunately, I think that much of our hazardous waste like this goes to third world countries. My husband was just showing me a documentary about a town in China where computers go to be “recycled”…it was horrifying.

  3. stumbleupon is a great way to kill a couple hours!

  4. Eve

    This makes me so very sad.

  5. URD: On the one hand, these objects need to go somewhere, and at least they’re being recycled. But…how convenient that we can pawn off this work on poor people in far off lands, so that we don’t have to be responsible for the results.

    Dawn: I’ve seen several things about computer recycling. Computers have numerous toxic substances in them (lead, mercury, phthalates), but because they also have quite valuable metals (gold, copper, etc.) they are a prime target for recycling. Again, it’s just easier to ship them off somewhere else than deal with it locally.

    Lori: I have to limit myself severely 🙂

    Eve: I can tell myself that there is a nobility to the physical labor involved, and a certain inspirational aspect to the amazing raw power of human effort, but really it’s horrifying what these men go through and how they live. There is just so much of modern life like this: Where do things really go? When we throw something away, where’s “away”? Who takes our discards, and what do they do with them? What objects in our homes might be made from parts of these massive ships, melted down and remade into something totally different? What was the path that metal took from when it was mined through to its current state? It’s virtually impossible to know, and to be really connected with the physical world around us sometimes. Which makes it all the easier to pass off the responsibility for handling our waste to someone else, since we don’t have a connection to it in the first place.

  6. Jen

    Oh I LOVE stubleupon…. great time waster;-)
    That is very interesting about the shipbreaking!

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