Giant boats, mega-yachts, and aircraft carriers alike, impress onlookers with their beauty, power, and sheer size. Many of these vessels can be seen at the Port of Houston. However, as with any man-made object, the steel hull and magnificent design will someday be turned into valuable scrap metal, as none of these vessels will be strong enough to withstand the ravages of time.
The typical ship can withstand the challenges of the sea for about 25 to 30 years before it will need to be replaced. The question is, what to do with the hulking scrap metal remains of these behemoths?
For the vast majority, though, the end of their service means being dismantled in a process known as ship breaking. Their hulls, flooring, stairways, doors, and other appointments are then turned into scrap metal, which is sold for reuse in industry. This process is considered environmentally sound, as using scrap metal reduces waste and pollution and conserves the energy used in creating new metals.
Given the challenge these massive ships present, recycling them has become a specialized industry. So-called ship breaking yards can be found in ports around the globe. Some Houston scrap metal recyclers have also come to specialize in this area along the Gulf Coast shoreline. However, about 85 percent of the industry is located in China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. In India, where these old vessels can supply as much as 10 percent of the subcontinent’s need for scrap metal steel, the coastline is particularly suited to beaching boats for recycling since it has 15-degree slopes, high tidal ranges, and is relatively mud free.
The process of ship breaking begins when the craft is hauled into a facility and workers strip it of machinery, glass, wiring, furniture, asbestos, and other materials that are not bound for the scrap metal recycling process, but that may find a new use elsewhere. Fuel tanks are drained for safety against unwanted explosions.
Next comes the hardest and most potentially dangerous part of the dismantling process: A ship’s final journey will involve it being purposely beached near a ship breaking facility. The boat is pulled on shore using motorized cables and heavy chains, which can break and cause death or injury among the laborers.
Once beached, ship recycling specialists examine the vessel from stem to stern to develop a detailed plan of action. The largest ships are broken into sections. Teams of workers, armed with sledgehammers, welding torches, and simple human muscle, take the craft apart bit by bit and separate the scrap metal materials for recycling. This arduous and dangerous task can take as little as a few weeks, to as much as a year or more to complete.
Scrap metal from these old ships is sold to metal recyclers and can find its way into a variety of uses, including building new ships. Steel and other metals are melted down and liquefied and then recast as new girders and other building materials. Manufacturers often tout the amount of scrap metal that is used to make their new appliances, cars, or home furnishings. A section of some old container vessel may even find a second life as a work of art.
If you are in the Houston area, and have a boat or large piece of equipment that needs to be recycled, call us today!