How $300 million Carnival cruise ships are demolished in Turkey

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  • Looking to cut costs as COVID-19 trashed the industry, cruise lines such as Carnival, Costa, and Pullmuntar sent ships to be demolished.
  • At the Aliaga ship-breaking yards in Turkey, the ships are ripped apart and sold for parts.
  • Ship-breaking is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
  • The job's only gotten harder with more and more cruise ships arriving on Aliaga's shores.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: For these $300 million cruise ships, this is the end of the line.

Kamil Önal: Welcome to the Aliaga ship-breaking facility.

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Narrator: Because of the pandemic, Carnival, Costa, and Pullmantur cruise lines have all sent ships to western Turkey for demolition. Here, there'll be ripped to shreds deck by deck and sold for parts.

Kamil: We recycle the entire ship.

Narrator: But dismantling a ship that holds 2,000 passengers? Well, that's …

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Nicola Mulinaris: One of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Narrator: Ship-breakers saw off massive sections of the hull and move them overhead. There's millions of dollars' worth of parts at stake, but any misstep could mean injury or hurting the environment. And it's only gotten harder with lots of new arrivals. We take you inside the yard turning these floating hotels into this.

Before the pandemic, the Aliaga ship-breaking yards were pretty quiet. Normally, the 22 yards only demolished a few dozen cargo ships a year. But when the pandemic wrecked the cruising industry, more and more cruise ships ended up here. After losing more than $4 billion in the second quarter of 2020, Carnival Cruise Lines decided it was more affordable to sell its old ships for parts than try to keep them operating. Aliaga will be the last stop for Carnival's Inspiration, Imagination, and Fantasy ships.

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Emre Aras: The cruise ships that you have seen behind me could have worked for a period of 5 or 10 more years. The owners could not find customers, so they sent their ships to Aliaga.

Narrator: Captains navigate the cruise liners from the US, UK, and Italy. They coordinate with the harbormaster to beach ships.

Nicola: Then the whole front of the vessel is grounded on the shore while the stern still floats. Emre Aras: We plan how we cut the vessels together with our technical department.

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Narrator: Then 2,500 ship-breakers set out to remove any valuable material.

Emre: There are very expensive navigational equipment at breach side.

Narrator: Working one deck at a time, crews take out all the furniture, mostly by hand. We're talking everything from chairs, tables, and pianos to light fixtures and beds.

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Emre: I can easily say that cruise vessels are the hardest vessel type to dismantle because, you know, there are hundreds of rooms on board.

Narrator: Then they move onto amenities, dismantling gyms, pools, and theaters. Stripping walls, windows, floors, and handrails is next. This is where lots of saws and blowtorches come in.

Nicola: Workers risk daily falling from great heights, inhaling toxic gases during cutting operations, being hit by falling objects. And the blowtorch comes with fire hazards.

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Emre: They are working in very high degrees under the sun in summertimes, or they are working in very extreme conditions in wintertime. This job is the hardest job, according to ILO's​ list.

Narrator: Since October 2022, two workers have died from falling objects.

Emre: The vessel lies on water, so there is not any way for the ambulance to reach in case of emergency situations.

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Narrator: Despite these injuries, working conditions in Aliaga are better than those of the world's biggest ship-breaking yards.

Nicola: In South Asia, in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, where most of the end-of-life vessels end up every year, dozens of people die or get injured in the process.

Narrator: Those yards in South Asia use the dangerous gravity method.

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Nicola: That is dropping huge blocks into the water onto the beach.

Narrator: But in Turkey, workers lift ship parts with a massive crane.

Emre: Which has a 2,000-ton capacity in our shore site, and we cut big blocks at the vessel. And by using this huge crane, we take these big blocks at our secondary cutting zone.

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Narrator: Aliaga hasn't always had the safest yards. In the late '90s, Turkey was just as bad as South Asia. But in 2002, Greenpeace released a report that revealed the unsafe work conditions here, and the world took notice.

Nicola: As a reaction to this international criticism, things have improved considerably.

Narrator: Things got even safer in 2018 when some Aliaga yards started complying with the European Union ship-breaking regulation. That's why Carnival chose two yards here for its end-of-life ships.

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Kamil: Currently, eight companies in our association have certificates and licenses in accordance with European Union criteria.

Narrator: Those EU guidelines have also raised the standards for environmental practices. Every cruise ship has dozens of toxins hidden inside. Things like asbestos in pipes, heavy metals in paints, biological hazards from sewage tanks, radioactive material from gauges, and the list goes on. Left unchecked, they can seep into the soil, beach, and water, where they've destroyed local marine habitats and water systems around ship-breaking yards before.

But because of these new regulations, Aliaga got newer and better drainage systems and cement floors in the secondary cutting area so workers weren't cutting ship parts on open beach. They also got new oil booms for containing oil spills, a new waste management center for properly disposing of those toxins in the ship, and a better asbestos removal process.

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Nicola: Practices have improved, but there are still concerns related to the long-term impact on the health of the workers due to exposure to toxic substances.

Narrator: Nicola says many workers aren't aware of these risks, and the rest choose the job anyway because of the high pay.

Emre: The wages of the workers who are currently working in the ship-breaking industry are around $1,500. This is a serious figure in today's conditions in Turkey.

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Narrator: After the ship is demolished, this is all that's left. While the whole process takes six months for a cargo ship, it takes a lot longer for a cruise ship.

Emre: Almost one year, maybe more.

Narrator: Workers move everything pulled off the ships into separate piles: electronics, light fixtures, textiles, furniture, glass, and machinery.

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Kamil: Wood, seats and kitchen utensils from cruise ships are also recycled. It is used in cafes, restaurants and hotels.

Narrator: Buyers interested in cruise memorabilia claim the life jackets, art, and maps from antique sellers. But what about all that metal? In 2020, Omil estimates workers pulled over a million tons of steel off cruise ships here, and that will all be recycled.

Nicola: Recycling steel instead of mining the raw materials reduces, definitely, energy requirements and the carbon footprint.

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Narrator: It's estimated scrap metal from one ship could pull in around $4 million in profit for the ship-breaking association.

Emre: You can make good money because there are lots of things on board for secondhand sales.

Narrator: Demolishing these bigger ships has led to larger profits and a growing workforce for Aliaga shipyards.

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Kamil: The arrival of cruise ships here after the pandemic gave us a 30% increase.

Narrator: But as ship-breaking booms, it comes on the heels of a crumbling cruise industry.

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