Ship scrapping, or ship breaking, is the process of dismantling end-of-life ships for the purpose of recycling their components. More than 70% of this process takes place on beaches in developing countries, where labor is cheap and environmental regulations are often lax. The industry is dominated by countries such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. According to data by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, 763 ocean-going commercial ships and floating offshore units were sold to scrap yards in 2021. This number is set to increase to well over 1000 ships in 2025 and will continue to increase, showing the ship dismantling industry is a growth market.
Underlying Market Mechanisms
One of the key drivers of ship scrapping on the beach is the low cost of labor in developing countries. However, this practice has serious consequences for the environment and the safety of workers. The lack of safety regulations and inadequate training of workers leads to many accidents and fatalities in shipbreaking yards. Additionally, the resulting scrap steel from beach scrapping is often of low quality, as it is not cleaned before handed over to steel makers. This can cause problems for the steel industry, which increasingly requires high-quality scrap steel as a feedstock to produce new steel. The low quality of the scrap steel from beach scrapping can lead to increased production costs and lower-quality steel products.
Consequences for People and Environment
The environmental consequences of beach scrapping are significant. Ships are often scrapped on beaches near residential areas, exposing local communities to hazardous materials and pollutants such as asbestos and heavy metals. These materials can cause serious health problems, such as respiratory illnesses and cancer. In addition, the practice of beaching ships can damage coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs and mangrove forests, which are essential for protecting coastlines against storms and erosion.
A Way Forward?
In response to the negative consequences of beach scrapping, the European Union (EU) has implemented the Ship Recycling Regulation, which requires all ships flying the flag of an EU member state to be scrapped at a facility on the EU List of Approved Ship Recycling Facilities. These facilities must meet strict environmental and labor standards to ensure that ships are scrapped in a safe and environmentally sound manner. The regulation also requires ship owners to provide an inventory of hazardous materials on board the ship, which must be verified by an independent third party before the ship can be recycled. While the regulation has been criticized for not being strict enough, it represents a step forward in addressing the negative consequences of ship scrapping on the beach.
But regulation alone is not enough. Innovative solutions using automation and focusing on circularity can revolutionize the ship dismantling industry. Circular Maritime Technologies (CMT), for example, has developed an innovative way to dismantle ships so that all elements can be reused at their highest value potential. CMT’s solution involves advanced and unique technology that can process the largest ocean-going ships quickly and efficiently, producing clean steel as the main output. The demand for clean scrap steel is growing quickly, making CMT’s solution not only environmentally friendly and safe but also economically competitive.
By promoting innovative and sustainable solutions like CMT’s and enforcing regulations like the EU’s Ship Recycling Regulation, we can reduce the negative impact of ship scrapping on the beach and move towards a more environmentally friendly and safe future.