Labor and green groups spurn “dirty, dangerous and deadly”

Alliance of Progressive Labor, Ban Toxics and EcoWaste Coalition

31 March 2009, Quezon City. Labor and environmental groups have joined forces in rejecting a Japanese investment offer for shipbreaking, warning that the “dirty, dangerous, and deadly” venture could spell a toxic nightmare for the workers and environment.

In a joint statement released by the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), Ban Toxics and the EcoWaste Coalition, the groups cautioned the government from submitting to external pressure to allow shipbreaking in the country in the guise of generating local jobs.

The Japanese Shipowners’ Association last week urged the government to embark on shipbreaking as the global financial crunch pushed many shipping firms to retire and scrap some 300 of their 5,000 vessels, assuring the authorities of “good business.”

Shipbreaking, the groups explained, involves the dismantling of end-of-life vessels for scrapping or disposal usually at a pier, dry-dock or beach. Shipbreaking yards are situated in poorer countries like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan because of cheap operating costs and weak labor and environmental standards.

“Shipbreaking is not a clean recycling industry, but a dirty, dangerous and deadly business that has been notorious for totally deplorable levels of workers’ injury and death and environmental pollution and destruction,” the APL, Ban Toxics and the EcoWaste Coalition said.

“We surely want jobs, but not the kind of exploitative and perilous work that shipbreaking offers. We urge our government and business leaders to block this hazardous venture and not to play with our workers’ occupational health and safety,” said Josua Mata, APL Secretary-General.

“Japan promised that it will not send toxic wastes to our country under the exchange of diplomatic notes during the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement hearings in 2007. In less than two years since that promise, we are already seeing toxic wastes from Japanese companies being peddled into our country,” said Atty. Richard Gutierrez, Executive Director of Ban Toxics.

The EcoWaste Coalition warned that shipbreaking can turn the country’s ports and beaches into toxic dumpsites for ageing vessels and cause massive chemical pollution in the guise of creating jobs for our people.

“We cannot afford to further damage our frail environment with hazardous wastes and residues from shipbreaking. The authorities should follow the precautionary principle and reject the deceptive offer from Japanese investors to create jobs by setting up dirty disposal sites for their toxic ships,” Manny Calonzo, President of the EcoWaste Coalition, said.

The complicated process of ripping a ship to pieces can expose workers to numerous hazards, including exposure to toxic chemicals such as asbestos, lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls and other chemicals of concern, the groups warned.

Some of the hazardous work activities in shipbreaking include the painstaking cutting by hand of the steel hull that often results in explosions and fires, removal of paint coatings and insulation materials, dumping of residual fuel, oils, lubricants and other flammable liquids, tank cleaning, and welding, and activities involving work on elevated surfaces, enclosed compartments and other dangerous environments.

The groups cited a report by Greenpeace International and the International Federation of Human Rights saying that the global death toll from shipbreaking operations might be well in the thousands due to explosions, fire, suffocation and accidents and occupational toxicity issues.

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