Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Nautical Graveyard

I don't suppose there is any journalist now working who knows quite as much as William Langewiesche about life red in tooth and claw.  Here he introduces us to the ship's graveyard at Alang in Gujarat:

Today [2004-5] roughly 90 percent of the world's annual crop of seven hundred condemned ships end their lives on the beaches of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh--and fully have of them die at Alang.  With few exceptions, the breakers are not highborn or educated men. They are shrewd traders who have fought their way up; even those who have grown rich have never lost the poor man's feeling of vulnerability.  They have good reason to feel insecure. With the most modest  of labor costs, shipbreaking is still a marginal business that uses borrowed  money and generates slim profits. The risk of failure for even the most experienced breakers is real. Some go under every year. For their workers the risks are worse: falls, fires, explosions, and exposure to a variety of poisons from fuel oil, lubricants, paints, wiring, insulation, and cargo slop.  Many workers are killed every year.  Nonetheless, by local standards, the industry has been a success. Even the lowliest laborers are proud of what they do at Alang.

So Langewiesche in The Outlaw Sea 204-5 (2004).  Here's a longer account.  For comparison, the reader may wish to match Langewiesche's story with Jon Ronson's superb Guardian account of people who go missing from cruise ships.  And we aren't talking about those who debark at strange ports.

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