In the heart of Alang, where ships come to their final rest, shipbreakers pay homage to the goddess Kali with a solemn prayer. This sacred ground is the world’s largest ship graveyard, drawing hopeful men from across India, leaving behind their impoverished homes in search of opportunity.

In Alang, nearly 40,000 workers labor tirelessly to dismantle some of the planet’s largest vessels by hand. While this operation represents a monumental recycling effort, it also stands as a stark environmental tragedy. Working in perilous conditions, these men face the daily risk of injury or worse, yet this hazardous job remains their only lifeline.

For ship captains, the decision to beach a vessel evokes a complex array of emotions. After decades at sea, bidding farewell to their ship is akin to losing a cherished companion. Yet, it’s also a moment of transition, as the ship’s materials will be repurposed to live on in new forms.

Decades ago, Alang was an obscure shoreline, while shipbreaking primarily took place in dry docks across Europe, the US, and Canada. However, rising labor costs and stricter environmental regulations prompted a shift. Indian entrepreneurs seized the opportunity, drawn to Alang’s natural landscape, where high tides effortlessly beach massive vessels.

Despite the immense profits reaped by shipyard owners, the welfare of workers and the environment remain critical concerns. Basic safety equipment is often lacking, leaving workers vulnerable to accidents and long-term health risks. It’s estimated that one in four workers will succumb to illnesses caused by inhaling toxic fumes from melting metal.

The ships arriving for scrapping today were constructed in the 1970s, laden with hazardous materials like asbestos, PCBs, and heavy metals. With each cut, these substances are released into the environment, posing grave risks to human health and the surrounding ecosystem.

The influx of wealth from the shipbreaking industry has transformed the once-agrarian towns surrounding Alang. What was once sustained by agriculture now relies on a new industrial economy, promising livelihoods for millions but also raising questions about sustainability and long-term prosperity.

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