21 APRIL 2021
With India facing a second wave of COVID infections, an unusual victim lies in the shadows: the shipbreaking industry.
Located on India’s Western Coast in the state of Gujarat, Alang is the world’s largest shipbreaking yard. Gujarat has been one of the worst affected states in the country, recording an all-time high of 10,000 new COVID infections on April 19.
With thousands of new COVID cases in the state, the regional government has redirected industrial oxygen supplies to hospitals. For cutting chunks of iron and steel at Alang’s shipbreaking yards, workers use oxygen fuel torches. Propane, butane, and natural gas are used along with liquefied or compressed oxygen, which acts as an oxidizer. Without oxygen, Alang’s shipbreaking yards cannot cut up ships for scrap steel. As a result, all shipbreaking activity has come to a grinding halt for the last couple of days.
Speaking to Indian Express, Haresh Parmar, a shipbreaker at Alang and honorary joint secretary, Ship Recycling Industries Association (SRIA) said, “Not a single tonne of gas is coming to Alang. Everything has been diverted for medical use for the last couple of days. Ship-breaking at almost all the plots has stopped completely.”
On a day-to-day basis, Alang uses about 70-100 tonnes of oxygen. With the current shortage in oxygen supply, only those shipbreakers who stockpiled liquid oxygen in advance are currently operating.
“We will be clocking huge losses because of this shutdown at Alang. However, we feel this oxygen is needed in the hospitals. Our association feels that the oxygen should be given where it is most needed now. Business considerations cannot be bigger than saving lives,” said Pamar.