Proper hazardous waste management for ship dismantling stressed

Islamabad: Experts have called for stringent policy measures to manage hazardous waste from ship dismantling, checking environmental pollution and safety of labourers at the Gaddani shipbreaking yard in Balochistan.

Speaking at a policy workshop on Environmentally-Sound Management of Waste from Ship Dismantling in Pakistan”, they noted that lack of measures for management of the hazardous waste during shipbreaking activities has become a grave cause of aggravating state of environment pollution and health of labourers and their safety. They stressed upon Pakistan’s relevant government agencies to take viable measures to fill the gap and introduce practices for hazardous management in an environmental friendly manner.

They also stressed that for Pakistan needs to seriously comply with international standards for safe and environmentally sound ship recycling and focus on the implementation of rules to comply with the EU standards to save the shipbreaking industry from a complete collapse, which contributes over eight billion in GDP annually and over 65 percent of the total steel production in the country. The sector also accounts for nearly 200,000 direct and indirect employments.

The Industry is stretched over a long water front of more than 10 kilometers with about 130 active ship recycling yards which are operated by roughly 32 recyclers. The beach is remarkably excellent with steep water draft and almost a non-tidal zone where highest tides goes just slightly up to of 3 meters, this compared to 10 meters plus tides at Alang and Chittagong.

Ship-breaking involves generation of hazardous waste and toxic substances, which cause environmental pollution. The pollution or contamination can have both acute and long-term effects on human health and environment. Many of the ships that come for demolition are not free of contaminants and dangerous chemicals, but are riddled with asbestos, coated in toxic paints and leaking bunkers or other petroleum products. However, the Gaddani beach remains covered in black bunker fuel, which also contaminates sea and the local atmosphere.

The different hazardous wastes such as asbestos, heavy metals, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), hydrocarbons, ozone-depleting substances, waste oils, etc. generate during the ship breaking industry. “Efforts are being initiated with the help of experts from United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in this regard and it is hoped that environmental protection, safety and labour rights standards would be enforced at the Gadani shipbreaking yard,” said Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta, Joint Secretary at the Climate Change Ministry and national project coordinator for the Environmentally-Sound Management of Waste from Ship Dismantling in Pakistan project.

He told participants that the present government is fully committed to its national and international obligations towards the overall conservation and preservation of environment and, introduction and promotion of environmental-friendly shipbreaking practices in the country is at the government’s top priority.

“Pakistan has taken various initiatives for the protection of environment over the past two decades and is a party of a number of international Conventions and Protocols on various environmental issues especially hazardous chemicals and wastes which include Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Vienna Conventions and Montreal Protocol,” Bhutta highlighted.

Pakistan has also ratified the Basel Convention under which hazardous chemical waste import has been already banned as a part of compliance to the Convention.

Talking about prime goals of the project for environmental-friendly management of hazardous waste from ship breaking activities, the climate change ministry’s Sajjad Bhutta said, “This project shall focus on the development of inventories of hazardous waste and other waste at Gaddani, Balochistan where ship recycling takes place. Following the development of the inventories, business plans/cases will be developed to assist government and industry to establish the requisite infrastructure for environmentally safe ship recycling. The knowledge and experience gained can be shared with regional countries.”

He also informed the participants that Pakistan is implementing a full sized project on Elimination and Reduction of Persistent Organic Pollutants in Pakistan” under Stockholm Convention with the support of GEF for the period of five years. Our Government has also initiated the projects on “review and update of National Implementation Plan (NIP) under Stockholm Convention” and “Minamata Initial Assessment under Minamata Convention on mercury.

Deputy Director (Chemical) at the climate change ministry, Dr. Zaigham Abbas said that in May 2009, the Secretariat of the Basel Convention received a request for technical capacity building assistance in relation to ship recycling from the Pakistan.

“However, in response the Secretariat developed a concept for a Ship Recycling Technology & Knowledge Transfer Workshop to strengthen the regulatory, institutional, procedural and infrastructural capacity of Pakistan’s Government and industry to fulfil the relevant aspects of the Basel Convention in relation to ship recycling, particularly those dealing with the downstream management of hazardous and other wastes, and the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009,” he told the participants.

Asif Ali Khan Environment Sub-Committee Pakistan Ship Breakers Association spoke at length about priorities for ship breaking industry in Pakistan for hazardous waste management in environmental-friendly manner.

“We would welcome any support that helps the ship breaking firms in Pakistan to comply with international environmental and safety standards for hazardous waste management in environmental-friendly manner and safety of the labourers at the shipbreaking yards in Gaddani,” he assured.

Project Manager at Sofies SA, David Martin, said that 70 percent of the shipbreaking activities take place in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. “But it does not happen in conformity with principles of environmental protection, which leads to large-scale marine pollution and health hazards for local communities because of handling of hazardous waste from shipbreaking activities.” He stressed for measures to proper management of hazardous waste to control environmental degradation in coastal areas, where shipbreaking yards are located.

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