In Alang, India, just under 200 miles from bustling Mumbai, lies one of the world's most impressive graveyards. There are no headstones or burial plots marking these sights of disintegration and desecration. Instead, there are harbors lined with the remnants of once mighty ships. "This is the place where ships come to die and men die with them," we're told in the earliest moments of Shipbreakers. This beautifully assembled documentary immerses the viewer in an environment many will be unaware exists.
When massive ships have outlasted their usefulness, they take their final journey to Alang, where a team of thousands await to dismantle and dispose of their parts. These workers arrive from the most profoundly impoverished towns across India in hopes of earning enough money to send home to their hungry families. Once they arrive, the job they are tasked to perform is grueling and perilous.
They often work several stories above the ground, feebly attempting to balance themselves on steel planks as they blaze them into several pieces. A large sheet of steel could fall on them at any moment. A cable could snap unexpectedly and decapitate any workers who stand in its path.
But the threat of death isn't always so immediate. Those who work in recycling run the risk of a more prolonged demise. They are ill-protected from the carbon fumes that engulf them on a daily basis from the blasting furnaces. Meanwhile the disposal of unusable scarps has proven environmentally disastrous; thereby posing a threat to all.
The parts of each ship are often recycled and sold as scrap to interests in India and beyond. Someone is getting rich off these endeavors, but it isn't the workers. They toil for minimum pay and no benefits under intolerable conditions.
While the supreme court of India and other organizations have worked to enact stricter safety regulations, there is little sign of these improvements as we witness the working conditions during the film. We're introduced to many of the shipbreakers themselves. Each of them seems resigned to the fact that this is their unavoidable destiny. Shipbreakers maintains a tone of profound melancholy as it portrays a people whose way of life could also bring about their death.
Directed by: Michael Kot