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Two workers die while scrapping cruise ship in Turkey

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Two workers die while scrapping cruise ship in Turkey

Ingvild Jenssen, Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform

Yet another fatal accident recently took place at the ship recycling yards of Aliağa, Turkey. On 12 July, Yılmaz Demir (55 years old) and Oğuz Taşkın (30 years old) were onboard the cruise ship CARNIVAL INSPIRATION when they were suddenly caught by flames. Yılmaz died on the spot, whilst Oğuz succumbed due to severe burns three days later at the nearby hospital. The exact circumstances of the accident are still unclear, but the fire supposedly broke out in the engine room. An investigation led by local authorities is ongoing and expected to be finalised soon. 

As reported one year ago, the CARNIVAL INSPIRATION was bought by EU-listed yard Ege Çelik. Due to lack of dismantling capacity, Ege Çelik, with ship owner Carnival Corporation’s approval, subsequently moved the cruise to Metas, a ship recycling facility recently acquired by Ege Çelik itself but not yet part of the EU list. 

The demand for better scrapping practices than those available at the South Asian shipbreaking beaches has led to a sharp increase of larger tonnage reaching Aliağa. There, prices offered to ship owners are higher than what ship recycling facilities located in the EU are able to pay.  

“The heaping up of ships in Aliağa must not compromise OHS management. Cruise ships are notoriously complex structures full of compartments and potentially deadly hazards that require a skilled workforce and time to take apart,” says Ingvild Jenssen, Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “To reduce the current pressure on Aliağa, the EU needs to boost additional capacity in the EU in line with the European Green Deal. There are many ships to scrap in the coming years and those seeking sustainable solutions need more options,” she adds. 

The recent tragedy is another sad reminder of how dangerous ship recycling can be. In the last ten months, the Turkish ship recycling industry has been hit by other serious accidents. Two workers lost their lives at two separate yards that are included in the EU List of approved ship recycling facilities. These recent accidents have prompted increased concerns about the conditions in Aliağa, including the management of hazardous wastes downstream and the lack of transparency on occupational diseases that sicken the workers. Since 1992, the year when a big explosion cost the lives of seven workers at Ege Çelik, local NGOs have reported at least 47 occupational deaths in Aliağa.  

The causes of the accidents have sadly remained the same over the last 30 years. Workers, however, also fall sick and die of occupational diseases many years after being exposed to toxics. Cancer rates in Aliağa are much higher than the Turkish average. Yet,  industry stakeholders continue to claim that there are no occupational diseases at the shipbreaking yards. Workers’ health violations and illegal practices with regards to removal and disposal of hazardous materials, such as asbestos, are ignored [1],” says Asli Odman, Academic and Volunteer at Istanbul Health and Safety Labour Watch. “Aliağa is dying, along with its shipbreaking workers, under the very heavy load  of full commission books and growing profits for an untransparent sector that is cutting corners on safety and environmental protection. Europe needs to take the lead in demanding higher standards and should no longer assume that conditions are satisfactory just because they are seemingly compliant on paper,” she adds. 

NOTE

[1] When answering a Parliamentary Motion on 20 May 2021, the Turkish Environment Ministry stated that 714 ships have been dismantled in Aliağa in the last five years, resulting in the disposal of 74.325 tons of hazardous waste, including approximately 250 tons of asbestos. The figure for asbestos seems grossly underestimated, taking into account that the yards in Aliağa have dismantled numerous military vessels; oil and gas units; and also older vintage RoRo/passenger ships operating in the Mediterranean, all of which are expected to contain large amounts of asbestos-contaminated materials.  

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