Ship dismantling, also known as ship breaking or ship recycling, is the process of breaking down a ship at the end of its operational life. This method of ship disposal involves stripping the retired ship of its machinery and other value-adding materials that can be reused for new vessels or other applications. The remaining steel scraps obtained from dismantling an old ship are liquefied and used to build new vessels or for other industries, thereby reducing the demand for mined iron ore and lowering energy use in the steelmaking process. Other parts of the ship, such as wooden furniture and glass, are also reused for a variety of applications.
According to statistics, in 2013, the world total of demolished ships amounted to 29,052,000 tonnes, of which 92% were demolished in Asia. The largest sources of ships for dismantling are China, Greece, and Germany, and the ship-breaking yards of India, Bangladesh, China, and Pakistan employ 225,000 workers and provide indirect jobs as well. In Bangladesh, the recycled steel covers 20% of the country’s needs, and in India, it is almost 10%.
Recycling of ships is considered the most environmentally-friendly and economically sound way of getting rid of end-of-life ships. However, the industry has shifted to areas where legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms are weak due to stricter social and environmental protection laws in the Global North. Over the past 10 years, more than 70% of the estimated 800 vessels that reach the end of their operational life annually, representing 80-90% in terms of tonnage, are scrapped on the beaches of Alang in India, Chattogram in Bangladesh, and Gadani in Pakistan, according to information consolidated by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
While ship dismantling is sustainable, there are concerns about its use by poorer countries without stringent environmental legislation. The industry is also labor-intensive and considered one of the world’s most dangerous industries.
In summary, ship dismantling is a crucial process in the ship disposal industry, allowing for the recycling and reuse of valuable materials while reducing energy use and the demand for mined resources. However, proper regulation and oversight are necessary to ensure that the process is carried out in an environmentally friendly and safe manner.