One last controversy for the Exxon Valdez

Mark Magnier has a fascinating article in today’s L.A. Times on the controversy over the dismantling of the oil tanker, Oriental Nicety, better known as the Exxon Valdez, which is currently floating in limbo off the coast of Gujarat:  Local environmentalists have petitioned the High Court here in the western state of Gujarat to block ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
CHRIS WILKINS/AFP/Getty Images
CHRIS WILKINS/AFP/Getty Images
CHRIS WILKINS/AFP/Getty Images

Mark Magnier has a fascinating article in today's L.A. Times on the controversy over the dismantling of the oil tanker, Oriental Nicety, better known as the Exxon Valdez, which is currently floating in limbo off the coast of Gujarat: 

Local environmentalists have petitioned the High Court here in the western state of Gujarat to block its entry pending an onboard inspection for toxic chemicals, including mercury, arsenic and asbestos.

Environmentalists acknowledge it's probably no more toxic than so many other ships recycled at Alang, a city whose coastline was once edged with forest and is now lined with about 175 ramshackle yards pulling vessels apart. But they say the standoff focuses attention on India's lax environmental, labor and safety standards governing the billion-dollar ship-breaking industry.

Mark Magnier has a fascinating article in today’s L.A. Times on the controversy over the dismantling of the oil tanker, Oriental Nicety, better known as the Exxon Valdez, which is currently floating in limbo off the coast of Gujarat: 

Local environmentalists have petitioned the High Court here in the western state of Gujarat to block its entry pending an onboard inspection for toxic chemicals, including mercury, arsenic and asbestos.

Environmentalists acknowledge it’s probably no more toxic than so many other ships recycled at Alang, a city whose coastline was once edged with forest and is now lined with about 175 ramshackle yards pulling vessels apart. But they say the standoff focuses attention on India’s lax environmental, labor and safety standards governing the billion-dollar ship-breaking industry.

Conditions in South Asia’s growing ship-breaking business are shockingly grim: 

The scene on Alang’s 6-mile-long beach seems the stuff of nightmares. Because of a 38-foot tidal variation, vessels meeting their end can sail straight onto its sand, no need for expensive docks. About 35,000 migrant workers, human vultures of a sort, then hack at carcasses that soon resemble half-eaten whales.

Moving inland, yard upon yard is filled with items from aircraft carriers, cruise ships and other floating cities, including 1970s-era Pac-Man game consoles, dinner plates, sofas, lockers and half-used soy sauce bottles.

What’s not easily sold off is chopped up for scrap metal in this world of Victorian squalor. In a lot beside an asbestos treatment center, a worker sat in the dirt bashing at ship instruments, toxic smoke from burning transistors curling around him, surrounded by piles of wire and glass.

Since in ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil in 1989 — the worst oil spill in U.S. history at the time — the ship has operated under a number of owners, flags of convenience and names, including the Exxon Mediterranean, the SeaRiver Mediterranean, the Dong Fang Ocean, and finally the Oriental Nicety.  In 2010, it was severely damaged after colliding with another ship in the South China Sea.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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