By Segun Adekunle
Ship breaking or ship scrapping is the deliberate act of dismantling ships or other huge water crafts for the purpose of recycling the steel to be harvested from these metal giants. Ship breaking is an age long practice and has proven to be one of the very viable means of recycling steel in the world these days. It should be noted that the lifespan of any typical vessel is 40 years.
However, in the course of the trading life of any vessel, they are exposed to a lot of rigors which include rogue waves, highly corrosive salt water, icebergs and many more. Some vessels can even encounter collisions with other vessels or man made water structures, some can be due to acts of nature or negligence on the part of the ship’s crew. The collision experienced by the RMS Titanic is an indicator to the fact that collisions can spell the end of such vessels.
The international Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) specifies certain navigational equipment and proactive practices to be undertaken by various vessels, shipowners, managers, and crew to prevent collision at sea or on various inland waterways.
However, while the COLREGS convention helps to aid collision prevention, it is apt to mention that in the event that such incidents occur, majority of the vessels involved are either taken to a dry dock for repairs or are taken to a scrapyard where the leftover steel is dismantled and ploughed into the steel market to be used to build another vessel or steel object.
One event worth mentioning when we discuss collision prevention and regulation is the accident on the Costa Concordia that occurred on the western Italian island of Giglio in January 2012. Costa Concordia was an Italian registered cruise ship with a passenger carrying capacity of 3,780 passengers in addition to the 1,100 crew members. This vessel was said to have been ordered in January 2004 at a staggering cost of 570 million US dollars, she was equipped with a master piece propulsion system and state of the art navigation systems. Her maiden voyage was in July 2006 and she remained in service until 2012. In fact, the only difference regarding the accident that occurred between the Costa Concordia and the RMS Titanic is that while the Titanic collision happened in the open sea where there is very little chance of surviving and staying afloat, the incident on the Costa Concordia happened along the coast and in shallow waters.
Captain Francesco Schettini of the Costa Concordia had taken the passengers, crew and vessel on a sightseeing spree on the Island of Giglio in Italy when the event happened. While the vessel captain was doing a fantastic job of engaging his passengers in a memorable marine travel experience, the vessel struck an underwater rock below the water surface.
Sightseeing tours and pleasure voyages are all parts of any cruise line activities and the crew of such vessels need to ensure that their passengers enjoy a memorable time while on board so as to keep the patronage of such tourists. However, the crew of Costa Concordia seem to have let down their guards to a certain extent such that the vessel hit an underwater object.
A typical vessel is usually equipped with certain equipment to aid safe navigation during the day or at night. These navigation aids include an equipment called an “echo sounder”. The purpose of this device is to measure the distance between the bottom hull of a ship to any solid object in the water. This invariably shows how close the vessel is to the ground or other objects in shallow waters. However, it was discovered that the captain and, by extension, the crew, may have been navigating the Island of Giglio by sight alone. In addition, this attraction or sightseeing for the tourists, was done at night which means there will be a lot of underwater objects which the human sight cannot pick except with the aid of the majority of the navigation equipment on board. It was not in any way unexpected that Costa Concordia eventually struck an underwater rock that put a 53 meter long opening into her starboard side hull, which resulted in a lot of detrimental factors, like loss of power, propulsion and the ultimate loss of lives.
A lot of experts, including me, actually blamed the captain but commended him for doing the little he could to save any more loss of human lives by beaching the vessel at the point of impact.
While this accident was quite devastating as it was the end of the vessel for the cruise line owners, it was a gold mine for the ship breaking or scrapping practitioners as the vessel was a one hundred and fourteen thousand gross tonnage ship. The steel was still very attractive and we can say for certain that the scrap buyers indeed made a fortune from scrapping this particular ship.
Such a scenario also applies to the Nigerian environment where a lot of vessels that have been abandoned around our anchorage are begging for the attention of shipbreakers. These vessels can indeed earn the country a lot of foreign exchange and equally be a source of great help to our ailing steel market. Government needs to come out and aid the activities of these ship breakers, with actions like prioritizing the industry in terms of power and energy production, organizing training and retraining session for them on how to professionally dismantle a ship, safety mechanisms at the scrapyard, amongst other mediums, are some of the incentives and policy moves that the government can use to assist the scrapyard owners.
Adekunle Segun, ISPS, DPA, MLC, is a maritime industry professional based in Lagos, Nigeria. He can be reached on +2348163769265 (SMS only) or firstname.lastname@example.org
- business a.m. commits to publishing a diversity of views, opinions and comments. It, therefore, welcomes your reaction to this and any of our articles via email: email@example.com