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#18 – The shipwreck graveyard of Alang

Travel with Henry > All adventures > #18 – The shipwreck graveyard of Alang

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the local story – what happened

The way towards coast is pretty far. It took us a couple of days to get to this stage on our journey. In Nashik, again a city with more than one million inhabitants, we visited the local Royal Enfield shop for the next necessary oil change. While talking to the mechanics I’d to notice, that my rear Tyre was slightly shifted sidewards. This presumed lack was caused by a twisted swing arm – I’ve been told. However, they’d to fix it too. Nigel wanted to get his bike cleaned after maintenance. I’m not really a big fan of clean bikes on tour, because it takes normally not more than a couple of hours to have it covered with dirt again. My bike-wash turned out as a big mistake. The guy who did it washed it very thoroughly – he injected his water jet with more intense below the tank, than my poor old princess was able to bear. Some of the electrical components conked out – it couldn’t be restarted afterwards again. All of the present mechanics were not able to find the cause for this failure at evening, so we’d to stay for one night in Nashik. Next morning they changed both spark coils and plug connectors and my fragile motor-donkey went in operation again. Instead of INR 1.000 for a simple oil change, I’d to pay three times more now. However, while waiting for my repair we’d at least the chance for a test ride of the brand-new Modell of Royal Enfield  – the Himalaya.

On the way to Gujarat we’ve seen an odd thing – on a 3-Lane highway grew a big tree on the middle-lane – without prior warning of road user. Trees don’t get cuttet careless, obviously.

Our objective were the shipwreck dockyards of Alang in the state of Gujarat. This shipwrecking graveyard is probably one of the biggest on earth. 180 different companies are wrecking international deep-sea vessels along a coastal section of approximately 15km. This part of the shore is private property and normally not open to public. Would you like to enter this area as foreigner or journalist, it is necessary to show a permission of the owners syndicate. This permissions are rarely to get. The last kilometers of the access road to the dockyards is lined by second hand shops – not one tiny piece dismantled of this vessels goes to waste – everything gets recycled.

The real problem of Alang are unsafe working conditions. Approximately 35.000 workers  are occupied with dismantling and scrapping supertankers, ferries and container vessels. The working conditions are dangerous, industrial safety is a foreign word. Toxic fumes and liquids are causing health- and environmental damages. There is just one small ward for all workers at this shipyard available – serious injuries must be treated in Bhavnagar – a small city 50 km away. One dead worker a day on average is usual, the bodies get cremated directly at the beach, no investigation will be conducted. One more reason refusing access for foreigners and journalists.

We’ve been very lucky – between the control post at the main gate of the shipyards and my bike was a truck waiting for entry, so we could sneak by the guards behind this truck to get in. It was really a thrilling moment – directly at the first open gate at one of this shipyards we stopped and moved in. I suppose the doorman at this gate was thinking, everything would be correct because we were able to pass the main gate. When Nigel was having conversation with them, I was able to move in and take some photos.

To dismantle a medium size vessel takes about 3 to 4 month – to wreck a supertanker or a big container vessel it takes approximately 9 month. At the middle of this shipyard section was a fire station – there I wanted to get in, because from the top of the observation tower we should have a perfect overview. This turned out to be a mistake. The chief of the fire station got fairly angry on due to our missing permission. He wanted to take us in custody – his affected behavior wasn’t really impressive so we went back to our bikes. To show us, how serious our situation would be he remained in front of my bike. To show him my conviction to go, I moved off  and he had to jump beside. Nigel was following immediately – the first danger of getting the photos deleted was warded off.

As we were out of sight I stopped to change the memory card of my camera. Should we get stopped again, we could show them that there are no photos taken – I neither wanted to lose my memory card nor get my camera damaged.

And so it happened – while searching for an other exit than the main gate we were stopped by a crowd of men. Everybody was looking fairly serious before they started their questioning. Where do you come from, how did you get in and what do you want here – and so on, the fully program. At home I’m always accused by my girlfriend, that I’m able to act very stupidly – if there is something I don’t want to do. This men can tell you a thing or two about it. I’d no idea of anything and – No, I don’t let my camera out of my hands. 10 minutes of heated discussions – but they did’t take us in custody. We got instructed that we shouldn’t show up there anymore and were urged to leave the shipyards at the next door immediately. Nigel was able to take a selfie with the grumpy chief of this pack.

The first slightly thrill on our journey.

Cu Henry

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