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While container ships have made it easy for society to move vast amounts of goods all over the globe, they have also added to the amount of pollution that plagues the Earth. If the shipping industry wants to continue operating, it needs to work on adopting more sustainable practices. In particular, the industry must address the harm that ship scrapping does to people and the environment.

Harmful to Humans

Ship scrapping or ship breaking is the process of demolishing a ship in order to sell its individual parts. The majority of ship breaking takes place in developing countries. Most of the time the ships are simply run ashore and left there to be broken down. Workers are routinely injured while ship breaking. Plus, they are exposed to harmful chemicals like lead and asbestos. Ship breaking takes place in developing countries because the impoverished workers lack the ability to sue and there aren’t any insurance costs to deal with.

Harmful to the Environment

In addition to hurting humans, ship breaking also poses a threat to the environment. Since ship breaking is done in developing countries that have few environmental laws, the harmful chemicals aren’t disposed of properly. The chemicals end up hurting the local wildlife and polluting the water. In 2009, workers in Bangladesh chopped down 40,000 trees along the coast in order to make room for ships. Now the coast faces a greater risk of sea level rise. Many fish species that used to lived in the country have disappeared as a result of the pollution.

International Maritime Organization

Governments and watchdog organizations around the world must do a better job of protecting the environment and ensuring that the shipping industry respects environmental laws. In 2009 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) created the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships. The goal of the convention was to make sure that ships are recycled properly after they reach the end of their lifespan. However, only three countries have agreed to the convention’s guidelines.

The Top Offenders

The IMO should focus on pressuring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India to agree to the Hong Kong convention. These three countries do a majority of the world’s scrapping. The IMO should work with local governments to develop a plan to better monitor the ship breaking. Additionally, other organizations like the World Bank should get involved and assist in the effort.

The Future

Ship breaking will exist as long as there are ships on the sea. Unless organizations like the IMO do a better job of monitoring the practice, it will continue to harm the environment and the workers that make a living from the practice.