Bangladesh remains one of the world's biggest dumping grounds for worn-out vessels, despite growing concerns about the environmental and labour standards of the ship-breaking industry.
The country scrapped about one-fourth of the total ships dismantled worldwide in 2017, according to a recent report of Shipbreaking Platform, a campaign group.
A total of 197 ships were dismantled at the ship-breaking yards of Chittagong last year, the gross tonnage of which was 6,568,227 -- the highest in the world.
While India scrapped the most ships in numbers (239), Bangladesh broke most in terms of gross tonnage, indicating that it was the preferred destination for the larger vessels, the Platform said.
"The larger the vessel the more likely it is that it will end up on a beach in Pakistan or Bangladesh, where the conditions are known to be the worst," the report added.
The report was also critical of the ship-breaking practices of Bangladesh, which they termed "dirty" and "dangerous".
"Severe pollution to the marine environment, hazardous waste dumping, appalling working conditions causing many severe and fatal accidents, as well as the illegal exploitation of child workers are amongst the main concerns," the report said.
"Despite laws existing in Bangladesh to protect both workers and the environment, these are poorly implemented due to the lack of resources, such as a lack of labour inspectors, or are deliberately ignored as a result of industry pressure."
End-of-life vessels are imported with fake certificates claiming that they are free of hazardous materials, which consequently are not properly detected or safely removed and disposed of, according to the report.
Citing World Bank statistics, the report said that between 2010 and 2030, Bangladesh will have imported 79,000 tonnes of asbestos, 240,000 tonnes of PCBs and 69,200 tonnes of toxic paints that originate from end-of-life ships.
The Chittagong area remains void of storage and treatment facilities for hazardous wastes and, as a result, harmful materials are simply dumped or re-sold, the report noted.
When it comes to labour practices, the Platform alleged that the workers in the ship-breaking industry live in unsanitary and improper accommodation.
They work for long hours without holidays and usually do not have work contracts.
Trade unions are prevented from organising the workers, the report said.
The Platform also said that they have documented the stories of at least 15 workers who were killed and at least 22 who suffered severe injuries last year.
The main causes of death are suffocation, fires, falls from great height or workers crushed by falling parts of the ship.
The closest specialised hospital, the report said, is "too far for emergencies" and the injured workers in many cases do not automatically receive financial support for necessary medical treatment.
The hospital building set up by the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association is operated as a private clinic and can only treat minor injuries, said the report.
Insiders within the ship-breaking industry said their environmental and labour practices have 'notably improved' in the last few years.
"A lot of dangerous work that used to be done manually has been automated in recent years which have significantly reduced risks to labourers," said Abu Taher president of the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association.
When asked about the instances of deaths and injuries, he said, "There may be a few accidents. But accidents can always happen no matter how well prepared the things are."
Industry insiders also noted that ship breaking industry has significant indirect economic contribution as it provides cheap raw materials for rerolling mills.
"Around 30 per cent of our raw materials are supplied form ship breaking", said Sheikh Masadul Islam Masud, Founder President of Bangladesh Auto Re-rolling and Steel Mills Association.
"Without this, the price of our raw materials will go up by at least 20 per cent", he added.
A research conducted by "IMO-NORAD SENSREC Project" also found that ship breaking yards recovers substantial amount of non-ferrous metals in the form of scraps, sheets, nets and bar materials, estimated at 7,500 metric tonnes in 2015 which is worth about Taka 1.2 billion (or about US$17 million) in 2009-10 constant prices.
Ship recycling also recovers numerous machines, components and hardware such as pipes, chains, boats, anchors and propellers, the value of which was estimated at Taka 7.6 billion (about US$111 million).
Over 50,000 people are involved with the industry directly or indirectly, insiders informed.
Established in 2005, Shipbreaking Platform is a coalition of environmental, human and labour rights organisations that works to address the human rights abuses and pollution caused by ship-breaking practices in the third world.
Each year, the Platform collects data and publishes an annual list of ships dismantled worldwide while detailing the status of environmental and labour issues in the major ship-breaking nations.
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