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Ship-breaking could be dangerous

Ship-breaking could be dangerous
Environmental concerns are being raised over the ship breaking activities currently going on at the Lagos Marina jetty.

Environmental concerns are being raised over the ship breaking activities currently going on at the Lagos Marina jetty.

Environmental concerns are being raised over the ship breaking activities currently going on at the Lagos Marina jetty. The director of Basel Convention Regional Coordinating Centre for Africa, a hazardous waste management centre, Oladele Osibanjo, says the activities could be harmful to humans and the environment.

?Ship breaking is a highly hazardous business,? he said. ?A ship contains several thousands of heavy metals and during ship breaking, they are released into the environment; it affects aquatic life.?

International guidelines

The International Maritime Organisation defines ship breaking as a process of dismantling an obsolete ship; it includes a wide range of activities, from removing all gear and equipment to cutting down. On May 15, 2009, 59 countries signed the Hong Kong Agreement regulating the recycling of ships. The agreement was to ensure that ships arriving at a recycling location at the end of their operational lives were recycled in safe conditions. The recycling operations should not pose any risk to human health and safety or to the environment.

?Nigeria has signed the Basel Convention, but has not ratified it yet,? said Mr. Osibanjo. ?When it ratifies it, this should also regulate the ship breaking activities. Although it is not a big industry in Nigeria, unlike Asian countries, it should be properly regulated because the marine has no boundaries.?


One of the substances released during ship breaking is asbestos found in parts of many ships. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency, found asbestos a human carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer). Their studies show that exposure to asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer. Yet many Lagosians commuting from the mainland to Island, are exposed to this metal as they pass in front of this jetty every day.

The breaker

Africa Steel Mill Limited, a steel producing industry in Ikorodu, Lagos, bought a titanic-sized vessel from the Federal Government"s consultant, Millennium Shipping, Limited, in July 2009. According to Raji Abubakar, a manager in the company, many old ships stay on the Marina for years; some end up sinking.

?It"s best to recycle the ship, and that"s what we are doing here,? he said. ?We can make millions of revenue by recycling it to make steel.?

According to the International Maritime Organisation, ships to be dismantled are supposed to be floated on land at designated ship breaking yards, before dismantling. In this instance, welders, iron breakers, dismantle the ship and face exposure to deadly toxins, exploding gases, and falling steel plates in the process. Several fishermen said scrap metals from the broken ships damage their nets.

?The big ships, after doing maintenance work on their ships, discard the scrap iron parts into the water,? said Sunday Ojajuni, a fisherman at Itu-Agan village, Amuwo Odofin local government. ?When we go out to fish, the iron hooks our nets and tears it.?

Mr. Abubakar says that Africa Steel does not own a crane to move the ship it has purchased to land, and so it is getting dismantled in the water.

?We are breaking the top part of the ship,? he said. ?But we are trying not to let it get into water.?


According to Mr. Osibanjo, ship breaking in Nigeria is monitored by the International Maritime Organisation and Basel Action Network. He said there is a low level of awareness about ship breaking in Nigeria.

?Ship breaking is not something that should be done anyhow and anywhere,? he said. ?But Nigerians are not aware, and the regulatory authorities, the Ministry of Environment, is not aware too. That"s why there is no law regulating it in Nigeria.?


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