It’s celebration time at the world’s largest graveyard for ships, Alang. There has been a huge spike in the number of vessels arriving at this tiny coastal town in Gujarat for dismantling. All thanks to the global slowdown.
Each extra ship means more business, more jobs. The new-found prosperity reflects in the swankier bungalows and snazzier sedans zipping on the 52-km road connecting Alang to the nearest town, Bhavnagar.
“We have received 286 ships since October 2008,” said Alang port officer C.M. Parmar, “against the 163 ships over the same period previously.”
The prospects looked so good that Sanjeev Chaudhary, who left this line frustrated by indifferent returns in 2004, is back, taking apart a 7000-tonne vessel at his recycle yard.
Global recession has slowed trade and cargo traffic and driven more ships out of service. Ship owners find it cheaper to condemn idling ageing vessels than wait for better days.
Starting in 1983, Alang soon emerged as the world’s largest shipwrecking centre, handling, by one estimate, almost half of all condemned vessels, taking advantage of cheap labour and minimal use of technology.
It witnessed a massive spike in business in 1998-99. “There was a slowdown in the shipping industry then,” said Nihkil Gupta, shipbreaker and joint secretary of the Ship Recycling Industries Association of India.
Having hit a slowdown-driven surge once again, Alang now wishes for an economic turnaround. Recycled steel from ships, for instance, will get better returns then.
“Scrap metal value is almost half of Rs 32 a kg we sold at earlier,” said Dilawar H. Kaliwala of Hussain Sheth and Sons, a company dealing in steel scrap.
But be warned: if the downturn ends, Alang’s fleet of fortune will sink.