Dead US Ship Ends on Indian Shipbreaking Beach

In September 2015, we uncovered that All Star Metals, a US ship recycling company, was going to export an old ship to shipbreaking beaches in India instead of recycling it themselves.

The ship, the Horizon Trader, contains hazardous materials, making its export and final voyage from the US to India illegal waste trafficking under the United Nations Basel Convention. Since the ship was built in the 1970’s before PCB-bans, the ship likely contains polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a persistent organic pollutant that accumulates in soil, water, and food webs.

Now, the Horizon Trader was just beached at a notorious shipbreaking site in Alang, India.

We first spotted the Horizon Trader on Sept. 2, 2015, as a US tugboat named Gauntlet towed it out of the Port of Brownsville, Texas.

We tracked the ships along their four-month journey through Trinidad and Tobago, Namibia, and Mauritius, before they arrived in Indian waters.

Along the way, we called on authorities in each country to uphold their legal obligations under the Basel Convention. All these countries are Parties to the Basel Convention, so they should have intervened, but they didn’t stop the ship.

And so, the ship arrived in Alang on Dec 30, 2015, and was beached on Jan. 8, 2016.

Beach shipbreaking is terrible. Without safety gear, wearing baseball caps and boots if they’re lucky, boys and young men blast through ship’s hulls with blowtorches, cut wires, and haul huge pieces of scrap metal using nothing more than their bare hands and brute strength.

Two shipbreakers, a child and an adult, tear a ship apart on a beach in Chittagong, Bangladesh, similar to Alang, India. Copyright Rube Dao,  FIDH

Two shipbreakers, a child and an adult, tear a ship apart on a beach in Chittagong, Bangladesh, similar to Alang, India. Copyright Rube Dao, FIDH

Workers are also exposed to a slew of toxins like lead, asbestos, oil sludge, bilge water, and of course, PCBs. It’s no wonder the International Labour Organization considers beach shipbreaking one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

The toxins that poison workers also poison beaches. These delicate, intertidal costal zones are especially ecologically fragile, yet beach shipbreaking companies don’t take any precautions. Many toxins soak straight through the soft sands, polluting the water and washing out to seas.

Shipping company Matson, Inc. originally owned the Horizon Trader and sought to avoid this fate. Matson sold the vessel to All Star Metals with the expectation that All Star would properly recycle it at their facility.

Matson has since assured us that in the future they will vigilantly uphold a policy of forbidding the export of their old ships to South Asian beaches. Their new policy preventing shipbreaking is hugely significant – 23 vessels in Matson’s fleet will be safely recycled in the next few years.

What Now?

As for the Horizon Trader, together with the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, we call on the Government of India to refloat the vessel and repatriate the ship to the U.S. to uphold their obligations under the Basel Convention.

We also call on the US Government to disallow export to developing countries without a thorough PCB study conducted by the government, at the exporter’s expense.

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We'd like to extend our gratitude to Patagonia for partnering with us for this investigation and story.