The call to stop work came when M. D. Arif stepped over the yellow and black tape.
The 21-year-old, a newcomer to the Shree Ram shipyard, had crossed the marker on the vesselʼs deck that roped off a 30-metre drop to the ground. Capt. Abhay Kumar, A.P. Moller - Maersk's QHSE Superintendent, stopped work and explained the danger and the importance of respecting the perimeter. He also reminded Arif that he had the authority to stop work himself if he saw something unsafe.
A few days later, Arif did just that when he saw two people on a vertical ladder at the same time. Only one person is allowed.
“The two guys on the ladder have been here longer than me, but that didnʼt bother me,” says Arif, reflecting on the safety culture that has emerged during the time he has been at Shree Ram. “As long as I did the right thing, I donʼt see any problem, and the safety supervisor supported my decision. I would do it again.”
Arifʼs experience is part of a wider improvement of plot no. 78, one of four owned by the Shree Ram Group in Alang. The facility was upgraded and certified to the standards of the Hong Kong Convention, an agreement which aims to ensure that ships, when being recycled after reaching the end of their operational lives, do not pose any unnecessary risks to human health, safety and to the environment. It was then audited under the A. P. Moller - Maersk Responsible Ship Recycling Standard after which two of the company's vessels arrived for recycling in June of 2016 along with an onsite team.
Standards urgently needed
Ship recycling on beaches remains an inescapable part of the shipping industry. In 2016, as much as 87% of the worldʼs ships were dismantled on beaches in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, typically under poor working and environmental conditions. The underlying economics are straightforward: vessels are recycled where the highest price for the steel can be attained. Lower standards mean lower costs, which make these shipyards more competitive than those with higher standards.
While most large shipping companies have responsible policies for the recycling of vessels, these policies usually only cover their own vessels. Therefore, a ship sold off just before ʼend of lifeʼ will most often end up on the beaches anyway. With a responsible ship recycling policy for own vessels in place since 2009, it was clear to A.P. Moller - Maersk that more was needed.
One response was to extend the ship recycling standard to include requirements when selling off vessels, thus removing the financial incentive for a new owner to recycle in substandard yards in the first two years after the transaction. Also, an opportunity arose in 2014 when a few ship recycling yards in Alang – the heart of Indiaʼs ship recycling industry – began upgrading in order to comply with the Hong Kong Convention, which sets global minimum standards for safety and environment.
“Most importantly, we decided to work with Indian yards that have been certified as capable of recycling vessels according to the Hong Kong Convention, aiming to improve further and reach the level of the Maersk standard,” says Annette Stube, Head of Sustainability in the Transport & Logistics division.
“In the coming years, with an increasing number of vessels to be recycled globally, it is urgent that we find a solution that embraces social and environmental aspects in addition to the financial ones. When we engage a yard in Alang, we want to guarantee that the yard is not only equipped to work responsibly, but will actually act accordingly.”
This explains A.P. Moller - Maerskʼs onsite team and the contractual right to stop work if procedures are not in accordance with the companyʼs standards, which go beyond the Hong Kong Convention on safety, social and environmental issues.