Alang: a place where old ships go to die and the men who break them up for scrap die as well. On the surface, it makes sense. Transport old ocean going ships to the developing worlds, tear them apart and recycle the steel and useable parts such as mattresses, appliances, furniture. Paradoxically, in the recycling process, and environmental disaster is created and, in the absence of labour laws, the workers are killed or maimed in the process, or die a lingering death from exposure to asbestos and/or the fumes from cutting torches. Alang is the largest ship breaking yard in the world. 40,000 men from impoverished rural India find work in Alang where the high risk jobs provide an escape from sheer poverty and hunger. A “living wage” is accepted in desperation by those without hope.

International law prohibits the disposal of toxic waste across international borders — however, nothing prevents the sale of old and worn out ships to another company and their transportation across borders while still containing asbestos and other toxins used in their manufacture. Under phantom owners and shell corporations, they end up on the beach in Alang — to be cut apart by men using only their bare hands, cutting torches, winches and cranes. And they die in the process. Over 300 deaths occur annually. Health care and disability pensions are non-existent.

The visual imagery of this film is spectacular and its message is clear. This 73 minute, National Film Board of Canada video will be of interest to those concerned about the environment, inequality of income, social justice and labour studies — and also to those with a love of the sea and ships that sail on them.

This dvd is available for loan from the OPIRG McMaster Resource Centre

Link to NFB site for film

Review by Kevin Sulewski