Ship boat

Where the biggest ships in the world go to die

From the Australian Outback to the California desert, we’ve all heard of airplane boneyards. But where do cruise ships go to die?


In Izmir, Turkey, in a town called Aliaga, there is a ship processing center where old cargo ships and container ships are dismantled, dismantled and recycled. In 2020, this processing port made waves around the world when images emerged of the place being used as a graveyard for cruise ships.

So: what happens in a cruise ship graveyard? How do they recycle these giant floating beasts? In the Aliaga shipyard, they use a landing method. The way it works, depending on the NGO ship demolition platform, is that “the bow of the ship is beached on the shore while the stern is still afloat”. Then: “the blocks are…lifted by cranes onto a drained and impermeable working area”.

“Sites do not use the gravity method, i.e. dropping blocks into the water or onto the beach.”

NGO ship demolition platform

Steel and metal scrap is then melted down to make building materials or sold to car manufacturers. Depending on the size of each ship, each ship usually needs a few thousand workers for recycling, and the process for each ship can take up to a year.

The sun reports that expensive navigational equipment is the first to go, along with all the furniture, including beds, floors and even pianos. Emre Aras, Aliaga site manager, said The sun cruise ships are the most difficult type of ship to break up”because there are hundreds of rooms on board.

Izmir, Turkey, October 2, 2020. Image Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

In addition to the task, all floors, walls, handrails and windows must be removed. This requires a lot of saws and torches.

“Massive sections of the hull are moved overhead with massive cranes capable of lifting 2000 ton objects at one go”, The sun reports.

However, there are other ship cemeteries around the world, and not all of them have the same environmental, health and safety standards as Aliaga. In fact, 70-80% of decommissioned ships in the world are sent to India, Bangladesh and Pakistan for decommissioning. Turkey, where Aliaga is located, and China cover most of the remaining market.

It is also quite rare for a cruise ship to end up in one of these places. These are usually only freighters and container ships, as until COVID-19 it was quite unusual for a cruise line to scrap a ship. Instead, they would typically sell their older cruise ships to a smaller operator, where they would be refurbished and rebranded. However, without this option (during the pandemic), various cruise lines (such as Carnival Cruises) began to choose to scrap some of their inactive ships.

According Cheddar, Carnival Cruise Line, as of January 2021, had sold 19 cruise ships, or 12% of its total pre-pandemic fleet. In February 2021, adds Cheddar, it was confirmed that 6 of these ships had been sold to scrappers. Kamil Onal, president of a ship recycling industry association, said Reuters in 2020 that “after the pandemic, cruise ships changed course to Aliaga in a very significant way”.

“There has been growth in the sector due to the crisis. When ships could not find work, they turned to dismantling.

Kamil Onal

However, not all ship graveyards are the same. As reported in a 2014 National geographic investigation, in Bangladesh a different process is used during a shipwreck. There, ships are brought onto mudflats at high tide, then cut with welding equipment and dragged to land at low tide. It is a very dangerous and environmentally unfriendly job.

As Muhammed Ali Shahin, program officer at the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said National geographic, “In Bangladesh, they break 150 to 200 ships a year.” The documentary also claimed that in 2012, 15 wreckers died. The work is dangerous due to the dangerous (and sometimes explosive) chemicals that are released during the process and the lack of safety equipment.

According to a report in Haika Magazine“A murky world of shell companies, flags of convenience and end-of-life flags allows companies to dodge responsibility and get rid of ships cheaply.”

Although the Turkish method is safer (and more expensive) than the one used in Bangladesh, it is not perfect. In fact, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform recommends that Turkey’s method of landing be phased out.

According to NGO ship demolition platform: “Turkish ship recycling yards apply the so-called disembarkation method.”

“The negative environmental impact of the landing method is undoubtedly higher than recycling in a fully confined area. The Platform is of the opinion that the landing method used at Aliağa should be phased out, in favor of the use of fully contained areas for demolition, as Turkish facilities have room for improvement.

NGO ship demolition platform

Luxury cruise ships are broken down for scrap at the Aliaga Ship Recycling Port. Image Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Although it clearly needs to be improved for both the wreckers and the environment, shipbreaking, a report by the European Commissiondeclares, is an important service, which enables the reuse of valuable materials.

“It enables the financial viability of the shipping industry, is a major supplier of steel, and is a vital part of the economy of many developing countries.”

European Commission

Sinking isn’t the only fate to fall out of commission or dormant cruise ships. They have also been turned into floating hotels, for example, and they will continue, as the industry returns to normal after the pandemic, will likely, in many cases, be resold to smaller operators, provided demand and travel laws revert to Ordinary.

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