Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Breaking of Ships

After a period of five years, I revisited the ship breaking yard at the Reay road area in Mumbai. The first time I visited was out of curiosity of what exactly it is all about. This time it was curiosity again but in a different sense. Many friends come to Mumbai and they obviously expect me to show them Mumbai- the financial capital of India and the world of glamour in Mumbai. It is very boring to go to the Gateway of India and the Taj hotel, click pictures with the pigeons there and flaunt that “we visited Mumbai”. Yes, Mumbai is a city of glamour, but what about the non-glamorous side, the other side of Mumbai?? Even that is worth seeing and worth knowing of how different things function. So, this time the Mumbai darshan was about the places like the famous dargah at Reay road, the ship breaking yards, the fish and the fishing concerns at Marine drive, the prostitution at Hanuman galli etc. The Bandra-Worli sea link was not in the list!


Ship breaking yard at Reay road, Mumbai

Ship breaking yards, as the name suggests are places where ships are demolished to obtain various materials which can be recycled and reused. A year and a half back, I remember visiting a car breaking place in Ahmedabad, where used cars are broken and its parts are resold for different purposes. It was a market place full of cars and cars and its parts and portions. We regularly connect to cars and it is not so much a different visual as we are always encountered with traffic jams everywhere. But it is not the same when you see ships of humungous sizes
spread all over till your eyes are capable of seeing. Ships after ships after ships one behind the other, it is a different world. Over sized machines and its parts, chains and anchors, planks and rolls, nuts and bolts all simply larger than life when you see them out of context.

Cylinders and other machinery from the ships

Alang, on the coast of Gujarat is one of the biggest ship breaking yards in the world where fifty percent of the ships from all over the world are brought for the purpose for breaking. Ships from all over the world come to developing Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc. for breaking. Ship breaking causes tremendous pollution and because these countries have less stringent environmental regulations dealing with the disposal harmful, toxic and banned materials, ship breaking is preferred here. Apart from major environmental concerns, personal health and safety measures for the works are on a high risk. It is an on the edge job with practically no safety measures but is a source of income for the weaker sections of the society.

Cross section of the ship

It is a different world with these huge old ships around where humans are like the tiniest possible elements amongst them. These yards are restricted areas for people like us to enter. They are owned by different companies. The companies buy ships by against bundles of cash, employ workers for the breaking and then sell the material and substances to the concerned people. A majority of steel along with other material is recycled and reused. Good and bad quality furniture is also resold and reused. The prices of the ship vary depending on its condition. The navy ships, tankers and container vessels are most expensive because they have the material obtained from them is high in both quality and quantity. Once the ships in front are broken till their extinction, the ones behind are pulled in front to start the work. Air conditions are fitted to the large containers are are used as cabins/offices. People in the area have built their houses using the metal planks from the ships and also the ship furniture takes up some place in their small houses. Clouds of smoke, blobs of fire, toxic fumes and hazardous material, the black sea with sticky black sand, people with just plastic hats without gloves and any kind of masks, no proper protective clothing is the kind of scene one can see at these ship breaking yards. All this has caused so much of pollution that the sea life is definitely in a lot of trouble as some part of the sea is just covered up by so much of waste that it is used as proper land to walk on and to build houses on. One just needs patience to grow plants on such a land…as this is the only thing left!!


Houses are built from the materials extracted from the ships. Also they are built in the part of the sea with wooden supports beneath. In school , we learnt that such houses were built only in areas with lots of water and floods all throughout the year.

Life is in cycles… things are made and then are destroyed/reused/recycled…and then again the new are made. These ship breaking yards are like some science books of diagrams showing cross-sections and vertical-sections more intricate and interesting than the whole drawings. Or they are like the biology dissections where you go through each and every part of the body! It is very interesting to know what happens to this large amount of material after its first use. Textile being a fragile material does not much go through this making and breaking process. It is a simple material and easy to handle even on small scale and personal level. Examples of reused textiles can be found in each and every home. Man-made fibers like polyester is said to be non-decomposable. But it can be reused to its fullest. When heated upto a certain temperature, the used polyester becomes virgin polyester again, ready to ‘reuse’. Trends today: ‘reuse’, ‘recycle’, ‘sustainability’, ‘eco’, ‘green’ etc are a few key words that fetch money today. Same like ‘handmade’ and ‘handloom’ in textiles and crafts.

Re Think!

Re Use!

Re Cycle!

2 comments:

Dushyant said... [Reply]

good one han!
but i dont agree that polyester textile can be reuse
if u take it upto certain temperature also the colour from polyester will not go (this is as far as i know)

vaishali said... [Reply]

hey aarti you have done an excellent job, very brave of you to get there, how did you mannage I must say the way you look at things is so intresting, you should keep writing ,why should asian countries put up with all the broken staff that could not be recycled. it definately needs some light on it, so keep up the good work keep writing