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How Alang Shipyard Works


How Are Ships Dismantled?
A Gujarat Maritime Board official and a shipbreaking captain discuss the details in front of a ship that will be scrapped, salvaged and recycled.
A Gujarat Maritime Board official and a shipbreaking captain discuss the details in front of a ship that will be scrapped, salvaged and recycled.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Shipbreakers go back to basics when scrapping a vessel. A ship bound for its final destination rides into Alang on the tide. The front of the ship hits the shore, and the ship slowly lurches forward onto the beach until it stops. Anchors drop, the engine stops, and power is cut off.

Workers shackle the ship to the ground, then use basic chains, cables and diesel machines to bring the ship farther up on the beach. The chains and cables pull extremely taut and sometimes even snap back, placing workers in enormous danger. This is one of the many risks that shipbreakers take.

Before dismantling the ship, workers empty the fuel tanks to prevent explosions. The crew must show the Gurajat official overseeing the site that the fuel tank is empty before proceeding with the scrapping. Scrappers then walk through the ship to find anything that can be salvaged for resale -- anything from flags and ship's logs to liquor and narcotics [source: Langewiesche]. They also strip the valuable plumbing, wiring and electronics from the ship. Businesses from all over India come to Alang's shantytowns to look for bargain-priced scraps.

After shipbreakers finish the initial scrapping, the real destruction begins. The shipboard supervisor walks through and inspects the ship to determine the best course of action. There's really no science or set-in-stone process for dismantling a ship. Years of experience and careful observation help the shipboard supervisor understand the anatomy of the ship and the best course of action for each project.

After the captain's walk-through, demolition begins. In a slow and clean sweep, workers use torches, sledgehammers and sheer elbow grease to scrap the ship. It takes anywhere from two weeks to a year to dismantle a ship.

Who takes on this backbreaking and dangerous task? Take a look into an Alang shipbreaker's workday.