Ship Breaking

By ,   November 26, 2015 ,   Ships and Lines

Ship breaking (also called ship demolition) is the process of dismantling ships for scrap metal and recycling or disposal. Today the ship breaking process takes place in a facility called ship breaking yard, while in the past scrapping ships took place in major port cities worldwide, and mostly in those of highly industrialized countries (UK, USA, Germany, Italy).

Ship dismantling includes numerous manual procedures and entirely excludes automation solutions, resulting in substantially higher labor costs. This is the primary reason today the largest ship braking yards to be located and operated in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China - countries with extremely low labor cost and almost no environmental laws.


Ship breaking is only one of several main ship disposal alternatives, also including hulking, floating or dry-dock storage, donation or sale for reuse, deep-water sinking and making artificial reefs (for detailed info check Ship Recycling). Having an average lifespan of a 20-40 years (depending on ship type), most ships become obsolete when the repair and refitting becomes uneconomical for the owner. Generally, ships ready for scrapping are put up for sale by their owners and usually the highest bidder wins the contract. Most of these already doomed vessels can make it to the scrapping yard under their own power, thus avoiding the not cheap charge for towing.

Ship Breaking - CruiseMapper

There are four major economic benefits of breaking ships for scrap and recycling that have made the breaking of ships a powerful industry:

  1. Steel production - the ships scrapping is the country's main source of steel, it reduces the need to import steel materials, thus saving huge amount of money.
  2. A "green industry" - the ship breaking scrap signifies reusing and recycling of almost everything on the vessel and the vessel itself, providing raw materials to the steel industry, asbestos for re-manufacturing factories, even furniture, electrical and electronic equipment, lubricants, oil, etc.
  3. The ship recycling industry generates large Government tax revenues mainly through import duties and the yards tax.
  4. it provides employment for some of the poorest people of the world, who would otherwise have no employment at all.

But all these economic benefits should be considered together with the social and environmental costs. People live and work in the most primitive conditions, high levels of pollution (most ships are used to carry such hazardous materials, like radioactive and toxic wastes, poisonous chemicals and oil), a severe contamination of the sea bed and the entire marine food chain.

Shipbreaking is one of the most hazardous jobs and among the world's most dangerous professions according to the International Labour Organization. In Bangladesh, India and Pakistan there's an average of 1 serious accident per day and 1 death per week on the ship breaking yards, the main causes being falls, fire and explosions, suffocation, falling objects, and many workers contract cancers caused by asbestos and numerous other toxic substances. Still are not respected by the industry all orders to the yards to produce environmental certificates, pre-cleaning reports and to ban the import of ships for scrap that had not been decontaminated in the export country.

Ship breaking industry

Since the 80's, the ship breaking industry almost entirely changed its main operational regions from strong economy highly industrialized countries, like Britain, USA and Germany, to some of the most impoverished regions in Asia.

The relocation process started in the late 50's, and while in the not so distant past ships for scrap were processed in major port cities of countries worldwide, today main factors in making business decisions in the ships breaking industry are the cheap labor, the lax of regulations and little environmental constraints in all developing countries in the Far East.

World shipbreaking industry statistics

The largest shipbreaking yards in the world are located in several regions in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China, and in the last decade Turkey is gradually entering the industry. The statistics below show the percentages of scrapped vessels by country. Clearly, the Asian yards dominate the industry of ship breaking and scrapping, India, China and Bangladesh being the world undisputed leaders in this field:

  • India – 48%
  • China – 21%
  • Bangladesh – 19%
  • Pakistan – 10%
  • Others – 2%.
  • Some statistics.
  • The industry of breaking ships employs over 100,000 workers worldwide, 41% of them are between 18-23 years old, 11% are children (under the age of 18), 46% of all workers are illiterate. Of all the world's 45,000+ ocean ships about 1,6% are scrapped every year. About 95% of the mass of a ship can be reused.
  • The ship recycling industry supplies more than 40% of the world's raw material needs - appr 1,6 million people are engaged in this business, generating 600+ million tons of recyclables every year with an annual revenue of US$200+ billion.

Shipbreaking is a term symbolizing huge profits by cheap buying of ships for scrap metal, selling scrap and used ship machinery, equipment and electronics, hard manual labor, some of the worst work conditions in the world with some of the highest rates of work accidents and mortality, numerous health and environmental risks.

Container ship scrapping market changes

An official 2013 Lloyd’s List report says containership scrapping rates exceeded all records in 2013 compared to previous years and trends. Still, cellular ship capacity removed due to ship demolition was surpassed 1 to 3 compared to newbuild ship deliveries.

Ship Breaking - CruiseMapper

The 2013's container ship recycling (these type of marine vessels are also known as "boxships") reached a total capacity of 450000 TEUs (container capacity unit) well exceeding the 2009's record of 381000 TEUs. The rapid ship scrapping acceleration was attributed to the tendency of removing  Panamax class cargo ships under charter. The smaller vessels (capacity around 4000 TEUs) were operated with charter rates at highly depressed levels - below US$10,000 per day. In comparison, the 2005's shipcharter rates peak was almost US$45000 per day.

Also the average age of container cargo vessels for scrapping fell from the level of 25-30 years down to under 20 years. This is the operational age of ships sold for scrap. CruiseMapper's list of the largest container ships in the world also has the list of largest shipping companies, their fleets' biggest vessels, all ship types infographic, statistical data and latest news.

Shipbreaking products and pollution

Here are some of the commonly acknowledged answers to the question  why all major shipbreakers are operational in Third World countries:

Ship Breaking - CruiseMapper

  • Older ships contain many hazardous substances banned as dangerous in developed countries. Typical examples - asbestos (used on old ships as a heat insulator), PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and lethal POPs (persistent organic pollutants). Currently, the cost of removing asbestos and the expensive insurance and health risks are the main reasons ship breaking to be economically not viable in most developed countries.
  • In developed countries removing the metal for scrap costs more than the value of the scrap metal itself. This is not the case in the developing world - no risk of personal injury lawsuits and health claims by workers, inadequate or no protective equipment at all. And many pollutants can cause serious health problems - from cancers and pulmonary problems (like asthma and asbestosis) to hormonal system disruption. Heavy metals are found in paints, coatings, electrical equipment.
  • Serious environmental issues like the coastal soil and sea water contamination. Wastes of the scrapped ships (especially oil and oil substances) are drained and dumped directly into the sea, and the lax or no environmental laws enables large quantities of toxic materials to escape into the environment. Ship scrapping activities also generate oil pollution, and include discharge of ammonia, metal rust, which damages the bird population and numerous marine organisms (especially plankton and fishes).

Shipbreaking - a lucrative and powerful business

  • Ship breaking on the beach (prohibited in most countries) is operated in coast areas inhabited by thousands of poor families in countries with millions of uneducated people looking for any job, thus providing the cheapest man power for the ship breaking industry. Under such economic conditions, no major investments are required to start and operate a ship breaking firm. Ships for scrap are not properly cleaned before beaching.
  • The ships recycling industry supplies great quantities of iron materials in the country (including high quality steel), which also means that yards owners have substantial control over the amount of steel and its local price.
  • Almost everything on ships is recycled, reused, resold. The ships scrapping means providing raw materials to steel mills, steel plate remanufacturing, second hand furniture, electrical and electronic equipment, oil and lubricants.
  • The ship breaking industry in Bangladesh, for example, generates huge amounts of Government revenues through taxes reaching almost US $130 million (import duty, yards and other taxes).
  • This is an industry that employs directly many thousands of the most poor uneducated people.

As opposed to ship beaching, dry-dock ship demolishing process is faster by 50%, safer for workers and environment friendly - no oil spillage into the sea.

Ship breaking regulations

The ship breaking industry regulations and controlling bodies include 3 UN organizations with responsibilities for the breaking of ships, who also provide guidelines for shipbreaking:

  • Basel Convention (1992) with its 2002 "Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of the Full and Partial Dismantling of Ships". Info and recommendations on procedures, processes and practices, on disposal and identification of potential contaminants, design and construction of ship breaking facilities.
  • International Maritime Organization (2003) with its "Guidelines on Ship Recycling" concerning administrators of shipbuilding and vessel equipment, supplying countries, flag and recycling states, ship-owners, repair and recycling yards. About new ship and equipment designs (to minimize waste generation and the use of hazardous materials), producing Green Passports for ships, ship recycling preparations. According to this document, the responsibility for worker and environment protection in ship recycling yards must rest with the breaking yard itself, the country's regulatory authorities, ship owners and stakeholders.
  • International Labour Organization (2003) with its "Safety and Health in Shipbreaking" (endorsed 2004) - a  set of criteria for ships disposal and recycling concerning ship breaking authorities and shipbreakers (both employers and workers). The Guidelines contribute to workers protection from workplace dangers, elimination of work-related accidents (injuries, diseases, deaths) and improving the management of occupational safety-health issues in shipbreaking yards. The document is especially intended as guidance to countries where such regulations are limited or nonexistent. It also includes recommendations on the management of hazardous substances, workers protection and training programs. As to the beach shipbreaking, it suggests the following steps in the ships dismantling process - assessing hazardous materials on board, decontamination (including gas-freeing), safe demolition planning, recycling, safe waste management.

On March 15, 2018, based on the European Union's regulations for Waste Shipments, the District Court of Rotterdam Holland convicted for trafficking toxic ships and sentenced the Seatrade shipping company (headquartered in Antwerp Belgium). The company was heavily fined for illegally exporting marine vessels for breaking on the beaches of India and Bangladesh. In addition, two Seatrade CEOs were banned for 1 year from exercising the professions director, commissioner, advisor or employee of a shipping company.

This was a precedent when an European shipping company is held criminally liable for selling scrap vessels to substandard breaking yards in Asia. According to the Prosecutor, the Asian breakyards' “current ship dismantling methods endanger the lives and health of workers and pollute the environment”. His request Seatrade's CEOs to face prison time was only waived in light of this being a precedent for such criminal charges.

The verdict set an Europe-wide precedent for holding shipowners accountable for knowingly selling for cash (via shady buyers) vessels for dirty and dangerous scrapping in order to maximize profits.

List of ship breaking companies in USA, Canada, Europe, Turkey, China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh

"Ship Breakers" is a term related to a company that serves the market of ship dismantling (ships demolition). The business of a ship breaking company generally includes scrapping and recycling ships, selling used ships equipment, and sometimes - the purchase and sale of second hand ships and other marine vessels. The biggest ship breaking companies operate their businesses in impoverished Third World countries - few environmental or safety restrictions, the cheapest labor cost, huge profit margins.

Ship Breaking - CruiseMapper

The "Shipbreakers" documentary (2004) is a great Canadian film about the Alang ship breaking yard in India - notorious with its deplorable working conditions, and in the same time the world's largest ships scrapping yard ever operated.

Ship Breaking Company Names Country Year Estbl Employees Annual Revenue (millions USD) Website-Address-Phone Misc info / recycling products
Al-Hamza Ship Breaking PAKISTAN 1974 500-1000 50-100 ship breaking scrap seller, a high volume supplier of raw Onyx.
Andrew Agency PAKISTAN 1978 100-500 5-10
  • "A-702 Saima Trade Tower, Chundrigar Road, Karachi sindh 74100"
  • 92-21-32211413
Buying non ferreous  metal and ship breaking scrap, battery scrap.
Euroasia Group of companies PAKISTAN 2002 50 0,1
  • "Hakim building, Shahra-e-Faisal Karachi sindh 75400", 92-21-4330062
Import-export of all kind of ship scraps, minerals and metals.
Geofman Trading PAKISTAN - - - -
Habib Maritime Ltd PAKISTAN 1958 10-50 1-2
  • "2nd floor. UBL building. Chundrigar Road, Karachi sindh 74200"
  • 92-21-2411887
trading house.
Metco Shipbreakers PAKISTAN - - - -
Shamsain Marketing Services PAKISTAN 2000 500-1000 50-100
  • "Plot No AC2, M1, Clifton Pride, Khayaban-e-Saadi, Clifton Block, Karachi sindh 74600"
  • 92-21-3586591
large projects.
Star Cotton Corp PAKISTAN - - - -
Transtrade Pvt Ltd PAKISTAN - - - -
Oge Gemi Sokum Ithalat Ihracat TURKEY - - - -
Dachang International Shipping Co CHINA 2006 10-50 0,5-1 Services - ship building and conversion, ship repairs, shipbreaking, new and used marine equipment, purchase and sale ships in China.
Haosen Business Service Co CHINA 2006 10-50 0,5-1 "No1Heping road, Hengshui Hebei 050000", 86-0318-8066321 Buying ships for scrap (oil tankers, cargo passenger and container ships of over 10,000 tons).
Shanghai Xinhua Iron & Steel CHINA - - - -
Xinhui Shuangshui Shipbreaking CHINA - - - -
Ta-Ho Maritime Corp Taiwan - - -

Pharung Shipyard Vietnam - - -

Sunlift Subic International Corp Philippines 2004 5-10 0,1-0,5
  • "157 Crowne Bay Tower, Roxas Boulevard Paranaque Metro, Manila 1702"
  • 63-2-5570512
Vessels scrap (HMS 1-2-3), bulk and container (fob and c&f basis).
7Riches International Trading Corp Philippines 1998 5-10 0,1-0,5
  • "B2, L5, St Elizabeth St., Mary Homes, Molino 4, Bacoor, Cavite Manila 4300"
  • 63-2-6683874
A trader of marine products, minerals and scrap, oil, shipping services.
August International FZC UAE 1991 10-50 0,1-0,5
  • "PO box 30457 Sharjah"
  • 971-6-5621366
A stainless steel scrap trader (types SS 304, 316, 409, 410), bulk HMS scrap, buying ships for scrap. Capacity up to 500 tons per month, has yards in Alang, Bombay, Calcutta.
Parus International FZC UAE 2010 5-10 5-10

Petroleum products, steel scrap, shipbreaking.
Magnate Steel (India) Madagascar - 100 - (dry-dock ship breaking) recycling ops in Mauritius, India, USA, Canada.
EUROPE Ship Breakers
Able UK Ltd England UK - - -

Fornaes ApS Denmark - - -

Van Heyghen Recycling Belgium - - -

North American Ship Breakers   - - - - -
All Star Metals LLC Brownsville, Texas USA - - -
Bay Bridge Enterprises Chesapeake, Virginia USA - - -

since 2005 - a subsidiary of Adani Group. capacity 3 ships at a time
Donjon Marine Co Hillside, New Jersey USA - - -


ESCO Marine Brownsville, Texas USA - - -

ship recycling ships breaking
International Shipbreaking Ltd LLC Brownsville, Texas USA - - - - -
Marine Metal Inc Brownsville, Texas USA - - -
  • 16901 RL Ostos Road Brownsville, TX
  • 956-831-4284
United Steel Supply Inc New Orleans, Louisiana USA 2006 100-500 10-50 15 ml south of New Orleans (NOLA) high quality HMS 1 and HMS 2 scrap steel, scrap metal, cast iron. Capacity - up to 100,000 metric tons per month.
International Marine Salvage Inc Ontario, Canada - - -
  • Port Colborne (Ontario), Canada
operates 5 facilities.

Shipbreaking business - YouTube video

The Pakistan's Gadani shipbreaking yard is located some 65 km south-west of Karachi - the country's most populous city, main seaport and financial center. Gadani is the world's 3rd largest shipbreaking yard after Alang (India) and Chittagong (Bangladesh).

  • men die, some break legs, some tear muscle, but work there never stops
  • on their ship-dismantling jobs here workers make £2,25 ($3,5) a day
  • most of the workers at Gadani are Pashtuns (a very poor local tribe).

The following lengthy video is a NAT GEO release about the Alang shipbreaking yard in India - the world's "biggest graveyard for ships". Over half of the marine vessels in the world are scrapped in India (at the Mumbai and Alang yards). The video explains a lot about the ship scrapping business in general. It is made professionally, and is well worth watching.

Ship cemeteries are where the beauty of all once beloved ships shines for the very last time. From most rusty freighters to 5-star cruise liners and famous passenger ships - literally dumped on the beach of some of the poorest countries in the world to be stripped of all honors and destroyed by the wretched of the earth. Thousands of the world's biggest ships have been driven onto the remote beaches of Alang, Chittagong, Gadani, Aliaga - to be seen no more. Info sources and list of integrated articles: