“It’s engagement on the ground that brings change”

Maersk’s intention to have vessels recycled in Alang, India, and its concurrent decision to sell two container vessels to one of the leading ship recyclers in the area has raised public concerns and triggered controversy. Its ambition is to change an industry.

Alang India
In May, two Maersk vessels landed in the ship recycling yard in Alang, India for recycling under Maersk’s new recycling initiative.

All past experience of changing any industry, points to the fact that real engagement on the ground leads to effective change.

CAPT. PRASHANT S. WIDGE, HEAD OF SHIP RECYCLING AT GROUP SUSTAINABILITY

Maersk supports responsible ship recycling

As a minimum, yards that Maersk collaborates with must be certified according to the Hong Kong Convention.

The work to recycle the Maersk Wyoming and Maersk Georgia at the ShreeRam ship recycling facility, more specifically plot number 78, is well underway. In May, the two Maersk vessels landed in the ship recycling yard in Alang, India, for recycling under the new Maersk recycling initiative. The bows of both vessels have been dismantled. Large blocks of the vessels have been cut and lifted onto the impermeable floors, oily blocks are thoroughly cleaned in a designated impermeable area, before they are are taken to the backyard where they are cut into smaller pieces. The work is unhurried and deliberate.

“All past experience of changing any industry, points to the fact that real engagement on the ground leads to effective change,” says Capt. Prashant S. Widge, Head of Ship Recycling at Group Sustainability, adding:

“Our presence in Alang is a huge encouragement to the ship recyclers because they feel that someone is supporting their will to improve their operations and the investments they have made. Our objective is to improve the industry standards.”

Widge is responsible for the activities related to responsible ship recycling from the time the vessels arrive in Alang. Supported by an onsite Maersk team at plot number 78, he is responsible for ensuring that Maersk’s responsible ship recycling standards are complied with. He also enters into dialogues with other ship recyclers with the aim of encouraging them to invest in and upgrade their facilities.

“These dialogues have proven to be successful, as close to a dozen ship recyclers are now working towards an up-gradation of their facilities,” Widge says.

Back in Alang
In Alang, in India’s north western state of Gujarat, 167 ship recycling facilities are lined up next to each other, forming a 10-km stretch on the beach. These days, the two Maersk vessels in plot number 78 are at the centre of public attention.

Alang India Ship
With the Maersk Wyoming and Maersk Georgia in the background in Alang, Capt. Prashant S. Widge, Head of Ship Recycling at Group Sustainability, briefs the onsite team of Maersk employees and external consultants consisting of (left to right) Bhagwanbhai Tandel, Bosun; Ashok Kumar, Naval Architect and Capt. Abhay Kumar, QHSE Superintendent.

Maersk tightens its ship recycling procedures

Maersk is introducing contractual steps to ensure that its sales contracts include a strong financial incentive for ship recycling to be carried out responsibly.

Historically, Alang’s beaches have been an epicentre of controversy. For a large majority of workers and yards, both working conditions, and workers’ living conditions are poor, sometimes appalling, and the impact on the environment is a source of concern. In some yards, however, improvements in recent years have seen Maersk come to Alang.

“A new generation of ship recyclers in Alang has done a lot to change the business’ outlook. If we were to stay on the side line, demanding that they improve their standards further before we start engaging, we may close the window of opportunity that we have right now. Things are already improving,” Widge says.

One joint initiative from Gujarat Maritime Board and the ship recyclers is a management facility for handling hazardous waste from vessels, which is a key element of responsible ship recycling. A five metric tonne per day organic waste incineration plant, bilge water treatment plant and four big land-fills for dumping inorganic waste were opened in 2005.

“There is a willingness to improve as long as these recycling facilities are given the right direction from responsible ship-owners. Putting ships on the ground is our admission ticket to giving this direction. We are seeing a ripple effect as other facilities have begun investing to upgrade,” Widge says.

Onsite, hands-on
The Shree Ram Group owns four plots in Alang. Three years ago, Chetan Patel, the owner, decided to upgrade one of the facilities, plot number 78, aiming to be certified under the Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, which was adopted by the International Marine Organization (IMO), a United Nations' specialized agency, in 2009.

Maersk Alang

There is a willingness to improve as long as these recycling facilities are given the right direction from responsible ship-owners.

CAPT. PRASHANT S. WIDGE, HEAD OF SHIP RECYCLING AT GROUP SUSTAINABILITY

Maersk supports responsible ship recycling

As a minimum, yards that Maersk collaborates with must be certified according to the Hong Kong Convention.

After meeting the criteria outlined in the Hong Kong Convention, plot number 78 was audited again, this time according to the stricter Maersk responsible ship recycling standards. Then negotiations, eventually seeing Maersk vessels arrive to the plot. Shree Ram was given a discount, as compliance with Maersk responsible ship recycling standards results in lower productivity, for improving further and having an onsite Maersk team to oversee and direct the work. This team has the authority to stop-work, which has been exercised 13 times.

Continuous progress

“We have even seen improvements during the short time we’ve been here, but things still aren’t perfect. Many of the necessary hardware and capital investments have been made, but what really takes time to change is the safety mindset. I think we are a few years away from changing this, but I am confident we can make it,” says Widge.

Plot number 78 is, however, on the verge of making one more capital investment that promises to be a game-changer. A 300-tonne capacity crane that can lift 50–60 tonne blocks directly from the ship’s bow and put them onto the impermeable floor.

Looking back after nine months on the job, Widge has no regrets. He was captain of a merchant vessel at 28, working for Maersk Line’s Marine Standards Team for close to four years before taking the job with responsible ship recycling, Widge welcomes the new challenge, including the concerns and criticism that NGOs have voiced:

“We are just embarking on this journey, and criticism is welcome. We will collaborate and continue our dialogues with all involved stakeholders. From this point on, we will only be increasing our standards. The way that the Maersk Wyoming and Maersk Georgia are cut will form a baseline and we will set the bar higher when the next vessels come in,” Widge says.

His plan is to engage all involved stakeholders in a constructive dialogue with the key objective of improving the overall ship recycling industry.

“With a sensitive project of this magnitude, no one person or company can make a difference on their own. We are engaging in the development of sustainable ship recycling for the long term.”