Bangladesh: The Ship-Breaking Industry
Jul 20, 2010

A recent CNN article”. covered the clash of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association’s BELA”. Executive Director, Rizwana Hasan, with the 78 ship-breaking yards littering Chittagong’s coast. Not only is ship-breaking an environmental hazard, it also endangers its workers. The workers toil in tough conditions; they have no unions, no safety equipment, and no training. Approximately 50 are said to die annually from accidents; often in explosions set off by blowtorches deep inside the fume-filled holds. For a business that is lucrative to the country, it is not personally profitable to its workers. For every 12 hours of work, contractors pay out a dividend of 300 taka, roughly equivalent to $4.38.

Ship breaking is a process that involves crude hammers, axes and acetylene torches to dismantle as many as 160 ships a year. Hasan recognizes the importance of the ship-breaking industry in bolstering Bangladesh’s economy as well as its potential merit as a recycling initiative, yet is assertive in her declarations of the legal responsibilities that must be upheld throughout the process. Ship Breaking is primarily carried out in developing nations such as India and Bangladesh – as their laws on dealing with lead paint, asbestos and general worker’s conditions fall far short of Europe and the US. Many ships which enter the Chittagong Coast contain hazardous material, and nations such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan are unequipped to deal with the material, and as such needs to be removed before its arrival on the coast. The Bangladeshi Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that “ships entering the country for decommissioning must be “pre-cleaned” in line with the Basal Convention”.

Although the 2009 ruling helped regulate the industry, many of the shipyards’ bad practices continue, and new yards continue to emerge each year. However, recent advancements have been made between Japan and the Gujarat government in India to upgrade the Alang ship-breaking yard in Bhavnagar, India. The two have signed a pact which focuses on the transfer of technology and financial assistance from Japan to upgrade the yard at Alang to international standards. This pact includes construction and operation of a common hazardous waste removal pre-treatment facility, modernization of recyclable goods markets, and development of human resources. Rizwana’s opponents at the Bangladeshi yards see her as an obstacle to progress within the industry; however she remains one of Bangladesh’s most prominent advocates on the path towards reform and regulation.

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