It’s 7.30 p.m. at the Alang ship-breaking yard. The yard lights have come on, and a ship, fully lit, is heading to the shore from the Arabian Sea. It’s the last time Kochi Express is sailing. Mohammad Asif Khan, safety officer of a company in the yard, jumps from his chair, comes out of his office and turns on his mobile-phone camera. “The ship will never be lit up again; it’s a farewell to the vessel,” he says.
Alang, in the Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat, hosts the world’s largest ship-breaking yard, dismantling many freight and cargo ships from around the world. The facility, established in 1983, has 183 yards along 14 km of the coast. Super-tankers, ferries, container ships and dwindling numbers of ocean liners are beached on the mud flats during high tide. As the tide recedes, manual labourers move to the beach to dismantle each ship, salvaging what they can and reducing the rest to scrap.
When the economy is good, the shipping market booms and fewer vessels arrive for scrapping. During the peak of the pandemic, as the tourism industry came to a halt, many cruise vessels ended up in Alang. The decommissioned aircraft carrier INS Viraat too has come for dismantling. “We have officially written out requests to the External Affairs and Shipping Ministries and the Prime Minister’s office requesting hospitals and hazardous waste treatment at Alang,” Mukesh B. Patel, chairman of Shri Ram Group, which is executing the work on Viraat, says.
At least 100 workers are engaged in picking apart the vessels in various yards. It takes six to eight months for breaking a ship, depending on its size. The labourers are migrants from Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, working 12 hours during summer and 10 hours in winter from 7 a.m.
Final port: As hundreds of vessels are dismantled every year, Alang is known as the world’s largest graveyard of ships.
Siphoned off: Workers unloading fuel from a ship that is to be broken down.
Precise task: A specialist in gas cutting is busy at a yard.
Save her soul: A ship gouged out of its entrails in Alang, the world’s largest shipbreaking yard in the Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat.
Easy pickings: The ships are broken down to salvage some parts for resale or reuse and to extract raw materials.
Step by step: A safety officer instructs his workers as the day’s labour begins at the company’s yard.
Brief respite: Workers taking a tea break.
Salvaged components: Electronic goods recovered from dismantled ships on sale at a shop outside the yard.
Last days: A cruiseliner is a shell of its former self as it waits to be completely dismantled.