After an average life of thirty years at sea, large commercial vessels – bulkers and general cargo ships, container ships, oil and gas tankers, and passenger ships such as cruise ships and ferries – are sold to shipbreaking yards for demolition in order to recover steel and other valuable materials. Every year about 1,000 ocean-going vessels are dismantled, and the vast majority (about 95%) end up in India, Bangladesh, China, Turkey and Pakistan. Sixty to seventy percent of the ships scrapped each year go to Alang, in India, and Chittagong, in Bangladesh where they simply run ashore on tidal beaches where unscrupulous shipbreaking companies exploit minimal enforcement of environmental and safety rules to maximize profits.

Emissions of toxic substances contained in the bilge and ballast waters of ships and the improper disposal of hazardous wastes and materials contribute to the risk of environmental damage. Environmental damage includes soil contamination, soil erosion, water pollution, contamination of coastal regions and subsequent biodiversity loss such as the destruction of vast areas of mangroves, air pollution, and threats to plant and animal health. Such damage is a serious problem because it can deplete important natural resources, disrupt the stability of larger ecosystems, and threaten human health and the livelihoods of farmers and fishers in surrounding villages