31 January 2011

Sector in grip of evil genie !!!

Environment state minister of Bangladesh tells of its HC role, foreign links working against country's interest..........

The country's ship-breaking industry is in the grip of an “evil genie that strolls down the verandas of the High Court,” State Minister for Environment and Forests Hasan Mahmud said yesterday.

“You all know the name of the evil genie. It has foreign connections. Foreign businessmen, who want to do trade in iron here, will be benefited, if the country's ship breaking industry is harmed,” said Mahmud.

He alleged those who demand closure of the country's ship-breaking yards have foreign connections.

The minister was speaking as chief guest at a view-exchange meeting titled “Preservation of the Environment: Role of the Industrialists and Businessmen” organised by Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) at its conference room in the port city.

The minister said the present government is sincere about protecting the interests of the ship breaking industry.

“You know how sincerely I am working to save the industry,” he said.

Owners of ship-breaking yards and the CCCI president at the meeting sought the minister's cooperation in resumption of dismantling of ships that remains suspended following a High Court ruling.

They urged the government to immediately formulate a policy for the sector.

“The government is not putting any obstacle to the industry. It's the evil genie that created some problems after getting some High Court verdicts in its favour,” Mahmud said.

“We will try to get rid of the evil genie but you should take immediate steps to make all ship-breaking yards environment-friendly,” he said.

The minister, however, did not mention anything about the deaths and injuries of a number of workers in several accidents at some ship-breaking yards.

According to newspaper reports, at least 30 workers died and 16 others were maimed in accidents in 16 ship-breaking yards in the last 21 months.

On January 18, four workers died and another suffered burns in an explosion at a ship-breaking yard in Sitakunda while scrapping a tanker that entered the country in breach of the HC directive.

He underlined the need for industrial development while protecting and conserving the environment, and said the businessmen should take the responsibility for protecting the environment.

The minister said the present government has started the culture of rewarding the critics of its handling of environmental pollution. The government gave the National Environment Award to The Daily Star for its role in portraying the status of environmental pollution in the country.

Mohammad Hatem, second vice president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, urged the government to give financial assistance for setting up effluent treatment plants in small industries.

The businessmen at the meeting criticised Md Munir Chowdhury, Director (Monitoring and Enforcement) of the Department of Environment (DoE), for fining different industries “excessively” during drives against polluters.

DoE Director General Monwar Islam presented the keynote paper at the meeting presided over by CCCI President Morshed Murad Ibrahim.

CCCI Vice President Md Nurun Newaj Selim, directors Mahfuzul Hoque Shah and Shafi Chowdhury, Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association President Hefazetur Rahman, former CCCI leaders SM Abul Kalam and MA Salam also spoke.

Source: The Daily Star. Sunday, January 30, 2011

30 January 2011

NGO urges not to accept IMO funds for training of shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh

On January 27th 2011, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform sent out a letter to the Bangladeshi Prime Minister (PM), calling on her to not accept a 3 million Euros investment of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for the purpose of training shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh. The Platform calls on the PM, Mrs Sheikh Hasina, only to accept the fund when the IMO commits to also invest in infrastructural development on the yards, which is crucial for real improvement in the industry. Otherwise, the investment plan will only increase the dumping of hazardous end-of–life ships on Bangladesh's beaches, primarily by western, foreign owners, which results in the continuing exploitation of Bangladeshi labourers and the coastal environment.

This week the Bangladeshi newspapers reported on the new investment plan that the IMO is proposing, which consists in giving Taka 35 crore (approximately 3 million Euros) to the government of Bangladesh to invest in the training of shipbreaking workers on the beaches of Chittagong. This was alarming news to the Platform and its member organisations who consider that this investment project is grossly insufficient to deal with the magnitude of the problem. It is rather an attempt to legalise the current practices of the shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh. Reliable sources told the Platform that the acceptance of the investment project was agreed upon at an inter-ministerial level. The NGO Platform takes this opportunity to call on the PM to react and refuse such an investment on behalf of the people of Bangladesh unless it also includes further funding for infrastructure.

In Bangladesh, ships are simply run ashore on tidal beaches where thousands of vulnerable migrant workers – many of them children – dismantle these huge structures by hand. There is no containment of pollutants and no safety measures to protect the workers from deadly accidents, such as explosions or being crushed by falling metal plates. In Bangladesh, last year, 28 young men were reported to have died on the job, local NGOs estimate the number to be much higher since no official records are kept. Also the many people that die of inhaling toxic fumes or of cancers due to asbestos exposure need to be added to the death toll.

Only investment in infrastructure aimed at taking the shipbreaking activity off the beaches of Bangladesh would adequately protect the environment and the workers of Bangladesh, by bringing to a minimum the many deaths and accidents on the yards and by protecting the coastal zones, already severely affected by the loss of fishery and forests.

Grazia CIOCI, Acting Director of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking ends by addressing the Bangladeshi PM with the following phrase, “With our confidence in your righteous thinking and humanitarian leadership, we urge you to request tangible infrastructural investment in the shipbreaking yards in order to achieve substantial socio economic improvement of the shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh.”

Source: Maritime News Online. Friday, 28 Jan 2011

28 January 2011

Ship recycling At Alang hits the peak

Ship breaking activity at Alang in Western India, is seeing brighter days.....

Alang, the World’s largest ship re-cycling yard is seeing unprecedented ship breaking activity and has surpassed all previous records. The slow-down in Bangladesh as a result of their court order and the accumulation of vessels over the past three years are supposed to have contributed to this unsurpassed record. Alang having been at the center of an environmental controversy few years back, is set to integrate new technologies in ship breaking to enhance production at a lower cost.  
“Last year 3 million tons of iron was produced by demolishing 348 vessels at the 127 ship recycling yards at Alang, the world's largest ship demolition yard,” said Pankaj Kumar, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive officer of the Gujarat Maritime Board. “Presently two to three ships are being demolished on an average each day. All environmental issues have been sorted out and we are implementing all guidelines set by the Supreme Court and complying with the various regulations in force.

“We have entered into an agreement with the Japanese government and the Japan Development Institute is helping to bring in new technologies for recycling by the beaching method which is followed at the Alang yard as it is the most economical method of ship breaking. As such our operations are environment friendly but we will further upgrade the operations. The Japanese system supports our beaching method and they are working to further enhance the technology employed there. Beaching method being economical and environment friendly, it is also followed by other countries including China and some South Asian countries.

The Gujarat Maritime Board has set up a Safety Institute at Alang where they run safety courses. So far more than 50,000 workers have been trained – though the employment potential is more than this number. The training provided is on safety and hazard prevention. Workers are taught to carry out the work in safe and sound condition. Only after they complete the training and get their certification can they be employed by the ship breakers.
“Perhaps the ship breaking activity could see a fall next year as shipping is coming out of the downturn,” stated Mr Kumar. “Environment issues are no more a problem as the disposal of asbestos, TBT and other hazardous material is taken care of as directed by the Committee appointed by the Government. This committee regularly considers finding ways and means of improved methods of disposal of hazardous material. But asbestos and other hazardous material are now almost non-existent since their use is outdated. There are plenty of re-rolling mill in and around Alang where the recycled material is utilized. With the initiative of Japan we are also working on improving the marketing of the recycled material so that during recycling value addition can be done.”

Source: maritimeprofessional.com; by Joseph Fonseca. Jan 26, 2011

The ship breaking and recycling industry in Bangladesh and Pakistan - World Bank Study


This study seeks to strengthen the knowledge base with respect to competitiveness and profitability of the Ship Breaking and Recycling Industry (SBRI) and to investigate the feasibility of ship breaking countries in this region, specifically Bangladesh and Pakistan, achieving compliance with the Hong Kong Convention (HKC) without jeopardizing the future of the industry there. The objective of the study is to inform key stakeholders associated with policy making and ship breaking including the government of Pakistan and the government of Bangladesh about the current problems encountered in the SBRI and suggest a road map to help strengthen institutional and regulatory systems that can improve work practices in the ship breaking and recycling industry. The study addresses the following: i) it assessed the productivity, competitiveness and growth potential of the industry in Bangladesh and Pakistan (chapter two); ii) it undertook environmental audits of hazardous waste materials present in ships scheduled for dismantling and established a pollution inventory as well as projections of hazardous materials till 2030 (chapter three); and iii) it provides a plan of action to enable Bangladesh and Pakistan comply with the newly signed HKC without jeopardizing the future of the SBRI in these countries (chapter four). In this study, ship breaking and recycling is defined as an industry that, through the use of land, infrastructure, machinery, and labor and through the consumption of utilities, converts ships that have outlived their economic life into steel and other recyclable items, which are then sold in local markets. The study was cover a period of 11 months in 2009. It consisted of an economic and market assessment of the SBRI in Bangladesh and Pakistan; environmental audits of ships and ship recycling facilities to establish a pollution inventory and a gap analysis and needs assessment for compliance with the HKC.

Complete Report:
The World Bank. 12 Jan 2011



ShipBreaking yard owner kept standing in the High Court

A High Court bench on Thursday kept an owner of a ship-breaking yard standing in the dock of the courtroom on charge of committing contempt of court by breaking ship despite the HC restriction.

Master Abul Kashem, owner of Mak International Corporation, kept on standing before the bench of Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Justice Sheikh Md Zakir Hossain for more than five hours since 10:30am.

Along with that, the bench asked him to appear before the court again on February 6.

The court also directed the officer in-charge of Sitakunda Police Station to notify it on the same day whether any case was filed regarding the explosion on January 18 in the yard owned by Abul Kashem and if any, what sort of developments the case gained so far.

The HC bench directed the director general of directorate of explosives to find out why the explosion took place on the yard and submit a report about it on February 6.

The court also directed the director general of department of environment to submit a report whether the ship, in which the explosion occurred, received any certificate from any environmental authority about its safety.

Earlier on January 19, the bench issued a suo moto rule asking Kashem to explain why he should not be punished for contempt of court by dismantling ship despite the HC order.

The court on the day issued the rule following a report on The Daily Star stating that four people were killed in an explosion while scrapping ship in his yard on January 18.

The same court also issued a suo moto rule directing the government to stop all kinds of scrapping of ships in the country until further order.

The HC in March 2009 directed the government not to allow any ship in Bangladesh without cleaning its in-built toxins.

But with the permission of the Department of Environment, Abul Kashem, owner of MAK Corporation, imported three hazardous ships in December last year and started dismantling those despite the HC ban.

Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka. Thursday, January 27, 2011

HC asks for report by Feb 6 on blast in Chittagong ShipBreaking yard

Staff Correspondent The High Court yesterday directed the chief inspector of Directorate of Explosives to submit a report by February 6 on the explosion at a ship-breaking yard in Sitakunda that killed four people on January 18.

It also ordered the director general of Department of Environment to submit a report within the same deadline on whether the ship that exploded had obtained any environmental clearance certificate from his office.

Earlier on January 19, the HC bench of Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Justice Sheikh Md Zakir Hossain issued a suo moto rule asking Master Abul Kashem, owner of the ship, to explain why he should not be penalised for contempt of court for dismantling a ship defying HC restrictions.

The court issued the rule following a report published in The Daily Star on the same day.

The bench yesterday kept Abul Kashem, owner of Mak International Corporation, standing in the courtroom dock for around five hours on charge of contempt of court.

In addition to that, the court asked him to appear before it on February 6.

The bench also directed the officer-in-charge of Sitakunda Police Station to notify the court on the same day whether any case had been filed in connection with the ship explosion in Abul and if so, the development of the case so far.

Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh appeared in the court for Kashem, while Syeda Rizwana Hasan and Iqbal Kabir Lytton, both leaders of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, argued against shipbreaking.

Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka. Friday, January 28, 2011

Bangladesh ShipBreaking: Sitakunda Police Station OC show-caused

The High Court has asked the Sitakunda police chief to explain why there were no cases over the death of four workers in an explosion at a ship breaking yard on Jan 18.

A bench of the court on Thursday ordered the police officer, Noor Mohammad, to appear before the court with the explanation on Feb 6.

The bench of justices A H M Shamsuddin Chowdhury and Sheikh Mohammad Zakir Hossain ordered Bangladesh explosives department inspector general to inform on Feb 26 whether the shipyard, Mac International Corporation, had secured its environment and gas-free clearances.

It also ordered the environment department director general to inform whether the shipyard had a license.

Earlier, the bench ordered the shipyard's owner, Abul Qasem Master, to remain standing inside the courtroom for four and half hours for defying court orders.

On Jan 19, just a day after the death of four workers, the High Court summoned Qasem as he violated a previous order to stop activities of ship breaking yards at Sitakunda until further notice.

Source: bdnews24.com. Thu, Jan 27th, 2011  

26 January 2011

GMS weekly report on shipbreaking industry for WEEK 4, 2011

As the Indian market continues to impress, despite tails in the opening days of the week, competing markets were left trailing in their wake.

Steel prices, along with other non ferrous materials such as copper, coupled with demand and capacity remained strong across the board and that is leading to decent prices on a seemingly endless supply of tonnage.

For the most part, the early part of the year has seen the majority of vessels sold on the dry bulk front, but the last week saw owners of different types such as containers and reefers cashing in on booming levels.

Pakistan, still there for the tankers and the largest vessels on offer, failed to secure any market units, although word was rife that one keen buyer had committed to the 56,000 LDT FPSO MAXUS WIDURI (despite earlier whispers she had been flipped on to Eastern storage interests by the relevant cash buyer).

Bangladesh remains closed with little hope of any further progress being made towards a reopening in January and several Chinese yards remain open to take the right (usually large LDT) units at the traditionally big levels available before the start of Chinese New year holidays next week.

As the first month of 2011 comes to a close, cash buyer speculation has reached unprecedented levels. Some would say those that continue to buy at strong levels on an as is basis are gambling, but the fundamentals remain strong and the Bangladesh buyers remain desperate to buy, with all concerned trying their utmost to find solutions in order to facilitate a market reopening.
Source: SteelGuru. Tuesday, 25 Jan 2011

China’s Ship Demolition Hit 283 Units in 2010:

According to official statistics, in 2010 Chinese ship demolition volume hit 283 units of 1.879m LDT.

Statistics from China National Shiprecycling Association showed in 2009 Chinese ship demolition volume reached 3.1m LDT. Although the figure in 2010 was reduced by 40% against that of 2009, it was still higher than those during 2006, 2007 and 2008.

In addition, the trade value of Chinese ship demolition industry exceeded CNY4.5bn ($676m). The scrap ship and other floating structures occupied over 40% of Chinese import ship products.

Secretary Xie Dehua of China National Shiprecycling Association introduced global shipping and shipbuilding market changed a lot against that of 2009. As a result, obviously the scrap ship and demolition market experienced fluctuations.

As shipping and shipbuilding market turned around, global scrap ship volume was lower than expectations while scrap ship price was climbing. In 2010, the monthly average price of China’s import scrap ships was $361.91 per LDT, slightly higher than the level of 2009.

Source: eshiptrading.com. 2011-1-25

25 January 2011


On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker hit Bligh Reef on Prince William Sound and spilled more than 11million gallons of Alaskan crude oil into the water. In response to this environmental disaster, the U.S. Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and other regulations that required oil companies to phase out use of their single-hull ships and replace them with double-hull ships. The idea is that if you have a double hull and hit something—like a reef—the ship’s outer hull will break but not its inner hull, keeping the ship afloat and the oil inside.

A complicated technical debate exists among marine engineers as to whether double-hull tankers are actually safer; so far, there’s no evidence that the switch has caused fewer accidents or oil spills. Nevertheless, the rest of the international political community soon followed the U.S. example and set similar regulations.

Suddenly, the oil companies had a big problem: How to get rid of these huge single-hull ships?

Some ship owners chose to convert their single-hulls to double-hulls at a cost of many millions of dollars rather than scrap a relatively young, and still commercially viable, asset. But most have gone for the cheaper option of shipbreaking (or in more positive terms, “ship recycling”).

In theory, ship recycling makes sense: these huge ships are full of valuable steel and other materials and parts that can be scrapped, melted, resold and reused. (A very large tanker, for example, can provide 30,000 tons of steel, worth about $1million on the scrap market.)

But in practice, ship recycling—done almost exclusively in poor countries where labor is cheap and the local demand for scrap steel is high—is notorious for its medical and environmental hazards.

Scrapping a ship by hand can be done in as little as six months.

First, anchor chains and braided steel cables pull the vessel up the beach and secure it to the ground.
Next, the ship’s fuel tanks are emptied. Usable oil gets resold, while sludge is burned on the beach.
Next, the crews attack the inside quarters of the ship, ripping out wood paneling, the electrical system and asbestos-filled insulation to get at the valuable piping.
Finally, the ship’s engine is removed and the remaining steel monster is cut apart in large pieces, using torches, and hauled up the shore.

With a vast, starving population, South Asia has a pool of laborers willing to subject themselves to harsh conditions for meager wages. Now, more than 90 percent of the world’s junked ships go to India, Bangladesh and Pakistan to be dismantled

Source: BOSS. Summer 2007

Laborer camp gutted in Indian ShipBreaking yard:

The Indian ship breaking yard of Alang near Bhavnagar had yet another disaster when a section of dwelling used by laborers were gutted in a fire.

Local Fire Brigade officials are clueless about the origin of file but it has destroyed section 105 of Labourer Camp located near Plot No 16 at Alang.

Since the fire was detected early, no human casualties are reported.

Alang, world's largest ship breaking yard, is notoriously famous for high number of accidents.

Source: Scrap Monster. 24 Jan 2011

24 January 2011

Bangladesh Ship-breaking Yards: Parliamentary body for action to stop casualties

A parliamentary body yesterday asked authorities concerned to take stern action against people responsible for accidents, and deaths and injuries to workers at ship-scrapping yards in Chittagong.

The parliamentary standing committee on environment and forest ministry also asked the ministry officials to take measures to prevent such accidents.

The committee members will also visit the beach of Sitakunda, where most of the ship-breaking yards are, in mid-February and then make recommendations to the ministry on how to prevent accidents.

“We will also visit the spot at Chittagong to have a first-hand experience and to discuss with all stakeholders especially the workers on how to avoid such accidents at the ship-scrapping yards,” Abdul Momin Talukder, chief of the committee, told The Daily Star.

“All members of the committee at the meeting were very vocal against repeated accidents at the ship-scrapping yards causing deaths to many workers. We asked officials concerned to take punitive measures against people behind such accidents,” said Talukder, also a BNP lawmaker.

The meeting held at the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban also asked the ministry officials to make sure yard owners take all kinds of precautionary and safety measures to avoid accidents.

In the last 16 months, at least 24 workers were killed, mostly due to explosions and coming in contact with toxic materials, in ships while 17 others were maimed in 14 accidents in 14 shipyards.

Bangladeshi shipyards scrap nearly 100 ships a year on the Sitakunda beach.

Source: The Daily star. Monday, January 24, 2011

ShipBreakers demanded immediate introduction of a set of rules for dismantling ships

Leaders of Bangladesh Ship-breaking Association (BSBA) and industries yesterday demanded immediate introduction of a set of rules for dismantling ships in an environmental-friendly condition.

They made this call at a time when restriction on import and dismantling of ship posed a great threat to ship-breaking industry and forced related industries like re-rolling mills on the verge of closure.

Sources said since ship-breaking activities started around 40 years back so far some 100 yards have been created along the Sitakunda coast supplying raw materials to many sectors, mostly re-rolling mills, and contributing a lot to construction sector in the country.

The industry provides 2.2 to 2.5 million tonnes scrap iron as raw materials for some 700 re-rolling mills as well as for steel mills annually. It also has been a great source of raw materials for molding factories, cables, motors, circuit-breakers, glass, wheels, electric equipment and parts and furniture.

It has created direct employment for some 250,000 people and indirect employment for another 750,000 while providing the country annual revenue of around Tk 7 billion.

But, ban on import of scrap vessels has forced some 75 ship-breaking yards, out of 100, to suspend dismantling activities disrupting supply of the vital raw material.

Bangladesh Re-rolling Mills Association President Mohammad Ali said, due to crisis of raw materials some 180 re-rolling mills out of some 400 have already been closed down while many others are facing closure.

Short supply of scrap irons and MS (mild steel) rods are feared to affect the construction industry seriously and aggravate the housing problem, he observed.

“There is a conspiracy to restrict ship breaking on citing the issue of environmental pollution here in Bangladesh when more environment-conscious countries like neighbouring India is allowing dismantling of ship,” he alleged.

He said price of rods has already shot up to Tk 48,000 from Tk 38,000 per tonne in the last three months.

When contacted DoE, Chittagong Director Zafar Alam said there are 123 ship-breaking yards along the Sitakunda coast. Of them, 60 got DoE approval.

Process for formulating a policy for ship-breaking started with formation of a committee headed by Chittagong University Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Dr Md Aluddin and concerned experts nearly a year back. A draft of the policy was submitted to the concerned ministry by early September last year.

“As far I know an English version of the policy has been prepared and the draft is now in final stage,” said the DoE director while talking to daily sun.

BSBA leaders accused some Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) of companying in a planned way to get a ban slapped on import of scrap vessel on the plea of environmental pollution and through misguiding the government and the judiciary.

“It is a conspiracy to destroy the potential industry in Bangladesh that has already emerged as number one ship-recycling country in the world,” said BSBA immediate past president Md Zafar Alam.

“At first we were given six-month time to obtain clearance certificate from Department of Environment (DoE) after fulfilling some criteria ensuring safety of environment for running the business,” he said.

“We fulfilled most of the criteria and started opening L/C for import of scrap vessel when BELA (Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association) misguided the DoE and the judiciary to impose a ban import on the plea of environmental pollution,” he said.

“But, the extent of pollution caused by this industry would not be one-forth of what is caused by tannery, dying, chemical factories and vehicles everyday,” said Zafar adding that the yard owners here never brought any vessel that carried nuclear materials that could cause massive pollution.

“We have developed system to remove asbestos and dispose off the oily residuals, if there is any, and other solid wastes for recycling or reuse.

BSBA always wants to run the industry without ham ping environment.

“In this regard we have also proposed the government for setting up a model yard with the fund to be provided by the BSBA. In the proposal made one and a half years back we also sought one year time to develop all the yards or make them compliant following the model yard,” said the BSBA leader.

Besides, the association also proposed for developing a dumping ground, as exist in some neighbouring countries, where all the yards could dispose the wastes paying a fee for recycling those later, said Zafar.

It has been a conspiracy to destroy ship-breaking industry designed to was sure to keep the re-rolling mills dependent on imported billets and raise price of rods to as high as Tk 100,000 per tonne from Tk 40,000 per tonne, observed Zafar.

The BSBA and BRMA leaders said the ship breaking industry here involves a huge investment of around Tk 200 billion while the re-rolling industry involves around Tk 150 billion.

So, with the recent ban on ship dismantling huge investment of around ship-breaking and re-rolling industries are becoming idle. The financial liabilities of these industries will mount.

If the ban continues it is not unlikely that the owners of these two industries will be forced to go far retrenching workers, they observed.

If these workers take to the streets demanding reinstatement in job then it will be embarrassing for the present government, which is committed to providing job for one in each family in the country.

So, there are lots of reasons to believe that the ban on dismantling and import of ship is a conspiracy to destroy the construction sector that contributes more than 20 per cent to the gross domestic product, they observed.

They sought immediate intervention of the Prime Minister and the high-ups of the government to save the vital industry.

Arrangement can be made to make the NGOs and BSBA sit face to face before the concerned ministries and the court to get everything clear, they said.

They also called to help run the ship-building industry under the direct supervision of concerned ministries.

Source: Sun Daily, Dhaka. 24 January 2011

Hard-knock Life in a World of Iron

A scene from Ironeaters 

A local saying goes, “Have no fear of the sea, it will bring you fruits.” And this is how the people lived their modest lives in Shitolpur, an area on the coast of Chittagong in southern Bangladesh.

Then one day the sea bore an unexpected gift. After a violent storm in 1960, a huge ship was found stuck deep in the sand. Initially the locals did not know what to do with the ship, but eventually they decided to take it apart and salvage the iron. This was the dawn of a new era for this region: the slaughtering of sea-giants brought an end to the tranquil life.

While the denizens of the southern region were blessed with the garbage of civilisation, populace of the north received a boon of the 'Monga'-- the annual famine that occurs in the dry season. Dire shortage of food and money force many farmers to migrate to Chittagong and work at the ship-breaking yards.

Berlin-based Bangladeshi filmmaker Shaheen Dill-Riaz's documentary Ironeaters (Bangla title Lohakhor) takes a close look at the lives and working conditions of these ship-breakers. The title of the film hints at the almost superhuman endurance and drive that enables these destitute, desperate people to manually break apart colossal old ships, turning them into sheets of metal.

Press screening of the 85-minute documentary, produced by Lemme Film and Mayalok, was held yesterday at the Goethe-Institut Bangladesh. A press conference followed the screening. Dill-Riaz and Kathrin Lemme, producer of the film, attended the conference.

The feature-length documentary will have a public premier on February 15, as part of the Dhaka Short and Independent Film Festival organised by Bangladesh Short Film Forum.

Ironeaters has already been screened and generated much interest at several international film festivals and has been honoured with the Grand Prix at Le Festival International Du Film D´Enviornnement (Paris, France) in December 2007, First Prize at the One-World-Award NRW (Köln, Germany) in September 2007 and First Prize at the Film South Asia (Kathmandu, Nepal) in October 2007.

The film reveals a brutal cycle of exploitation. The ship-breaking yards in our third-world country are the graves of run-down, obsolete and most-often toxic chemical carrying ships from the west. The seasonal labourers play hide-and-seek with death everyday, working in inhuman conditions. The product of their labour is used in constructions all over the country. Certain individuals get richer. But lives of the ship-breakers never change. They do not get helmets. Out in the mud, amidst sharp metal objects, they work bare feet. They are surrounded with toxic chemicals and gasses but they get no masks. There is no doctor, no stretcher. Like mules they are subjected to carry big and heavy loads. Like an army of ants, these men bring down 75,000-ton ships -- images of slaves working on pyramids come to mind.

After backbreaking labour, a cable-puller gets around Tk 80 (a little over $1) per day. Exploited by owners and contractors, these workers at times find themselves without the money to return home in North Bengal.

But like Michael Moore, Dill-Riaz does not hammer his opinion in the film. He does not hound the owners or contractors. He lets the camera roll and the apparently “righteous” and “religious” factory owners reveal their “generosity”.

Dill-Riaz and his crew filmed exclusively at the PHP yard. According to the filmmaker, “I had requested permission to shoot the film from the Bangladesh Shipbreakers Association (BSBA) and they suggested the location. PHP administration allowed us nearly four months of unrestricted shooting. It was a seven-member crew, with four or five of us on location at a time -- the camera assistant, the loader, the sound recordist and myself. We visited the workers in the north several times. It was very important to show where the workers came from.”

Regarding what inspired him to make this film, Dill-Riaz said, “The place where ships are dismantled is not far from my village home. Access to the yards was strictly forbidden for anyone who didn't work there. But we heard lots of stories about the colossal ships and the serious industrial accidents. My decision to make a documentary on ship-breakers was triggered by Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado's remarkable photos on the subject. I started researching in 2001.”

The film was shot between January and May 2005. The filmmaker and his crew lived with the workers and filmed them for a total of five months. Ironeaters was edited in Berlin by Andreas Zitzmann and post-production was done in Hamburg.

Though the film shows the protagonists returning home, jaded and disconsolate, and swearing that they would never go back to the ship-breaking yards, they cannot escape the system. Kholil and Gadu again recruit desperate young men from their village. Djabor still dreams of starting his own little business in between pulling cable. Osman still works as a gas-cutter and relies on his luck to avoid fatal accidents.

As one worker puts it, “If you're really hungry, you'd be able to eat anything, even if it's iron…”  

Source: The Daily Star. 08-02-2008. By Karim Waheed

Workers are Treated like Slaves

Workers toil in ship-breaking hazards, hardly get compensated if accident strikes......

Morshed Ali Khan At exactly 9:00am yesterday, a day after deaths of four workers, the main gate of MAK Corporation ship-breaking yard in Sitakunda remained closed and strictly guarded. It took heavy persuasion with guards and officials to gain access to the yard that witnessed one of the loudest explosions in the history of the ship-breaking yards.

Despite deaths, injuries, miseries and orders from the High Court, the issues of workers' safety and environmental protection did not seem to be on the list at the yard.

On the vast yard two gigantic ships, including the fateful Pranam, were beached for dismantling. The waters of the Bay had receded with the low tide, exposing the beach further down. Water was littered with debris and patches of oil were visible.

Scores of bare-footed teenage workers, clad in lungi, toiled through the long sandy beach carrying heavy pieces of metal from the two ships. There were no traces of any safety gears for the workers, who, as they worked, looked extremely worried. The young men constantly looked back at the ship nearby that took the lives of at least four of their colleagues less than 24 hours ago.

The front side of the gigantic Pranam was badly burned and twisted metal rose from its hull. It strongly bore the evidence of the huge blast that could be heard from as far as two miles away.

Jashim, the top security man of the company, remained loyal to his employer. He said accidents might happen anytime anywhere, but a vested quarter is trying to destroy the ship-breaking industry in Bangladesh.

"Our owner always looks after the workers. He will duly compensate the relatives of the victims who died yesterday," he added.

About a mile away in Bogula Bazar, a crowd of men and women gathered at Rana Ahmed's tin-roofed rented house. Rana, 21, was one of the four men killed in Tuesday's blast. His mother, having lost one of her four children, was numb and speechless. His father had gone to fetch their son's body from Chittagong Medical College Hospital. Neighbours, all scratching a livelihood from one or the other of 100 ship-breaking yards in Sitakunda, converged at the house to console the family.

"The blast was so huge that nearby houses shook violently and family crockery fell off the shelves," said Rana's elder brother Raju Ahmed.

"As soon as the blast occurred, my mother ran out to the street calling out my brother's name," Raju said.

"Somehow she anticipated that something bad had happened to Rana," Raju said. "Within minutes we knew three people including Rana were taken to the hospital."

The crowd soon grew impatient. A woman, identifying herself as a neighbour and mother of a worker, said justice is never delivered for thousands of workers in the industry who contribute significantly to the country's development.

"They will not compensate us for the lives of our children. They will only intimidate us if we demand justice," she said.

"Why should they take more than 24 hours to hand over the dead bodies?" the angry woman asked.

According to the National Labour Law 2006, in case of accidental death of a worker, the employer has to pay the near relative through a labour court TK 1 lakh and Tk 1.25 lakh for the injured victim who becomes physically handicapped.

But at the Sitakunda ship-breaking yards there is no thumb rule for the compensation of the injured or dead workers.

"If a case is filed following an accident, the labour court realises the money from the employer and hands it over to the victim," said a lawyer in Chittagong.

"But the procedures are painstaking and time consuming," he said, adding, "In many cases we never know about the accidents inside the restricted and well-guarded yards."

A few yards away from Rana's house another victim Liton lived in a Tk 800-a-month house with his wife and daughter. At around 10:00am the family had left for CMCH to bring back their loved one's body.

"Liton was an experienced cutter-man and a very hard worker. We do not know how his wife and child will survive," said Abdul Quddus, a welder of another ship-breaking yard.

The most vivid description of the blast came from the maternal uncle of Rana, who was in the vicinity at that time. He said the explosion was so big that it shook the earth as if a tremor hit the area.

"I looked at the source and saw debris flying and most surprisingly I saw a human flung to the sky," he said.

The person who was thrown 100 metres away by the blast was Miraj, a teen-age boy who joined the company just three days earlier.

Miraj's brother-in-law Babul, who works as a security guard at a nearby yard, received his body at around 12:00noon yesterday and was on his way to Char Fashion, Bhola for burial.

"The owner gave us Tk 28,000 for the transport cost," said Babul.

Another victim Jubayed Hossain was assisting Liton cutting the ship. His elder brother was on his way to Netrokona with his brother's body yesterday.

"My brother joined MAK just over two months ago. I do not know what I will tell my parents back home," said Junayed.

According to media reports, 30 workers were killed and 16 maimed in Sitakunda ship-breaking yards in the last 21 months.

Source: The Daily Star. Thursday, January 20, 2011. By Morshed Ali Khan.

Ban on scrap vessel import in Bangladesh : 1m people to lose job, govt to miss Tk 4bn revenue

The High Court restriction on importing scrap vessels will leave about one million employees in the ship-breaking industry jobless while the government may face losses of Tk 4 billion in revenue, said businessmen.

“One million people are facing the risks of losing jobs directly and indirectly because of the High Court directive,” Ship Breakers Association President Hefazetur Rahman told the daily sun on Saturday.

The HC in a suo moto rule issued on Wednesday directed the government to stop recycling of toxic ships in the country until further orders. It also ordered the authorities not to let the four imported ships, brought for scrapping, in the country.

Hefazetur Rahman pointed out that over a dozen ship breaking yards in Sitakunda employ thousands of workers in our country where unemployment is a major problem.

Sitakunda, which houses one of the leading yards in the world, produces 1.6-1.7 million tonnes of iron annually. The ever growing iron-based industries are the customers of this local industry.
The ship-breaking sector, which employs around 1.2 million people, contributes Tk 4 billion to the government coffer annually as taxes and duties, he added.

Chairman of Bangladesh Steel Re-rolling Mills Ltd (BSRM) Ali Hussain Akbarali expressed his stand against any ban on imported vessels which, he said, will hurt the country’s iron industries.

“The country will face a big problem if the ban continues for a long period,” he said. BSRM is one of the leading mild steel rod producing companies in South Asia, having a production capacity of 0.37 million tonnes a year. It also uses scrap iron to produce high quality rod.

He pointed out that the ban will force the government and the private sector to import steel raw materials at a high rate to meet the growing demand of iron at home.

One tonne of scraps produced at Sitakunda yard costs $400, but the import cost will stand at $500-600, he said.

The BRSM chairman suggested that the government formulate rules for the ship-breaking industry and ensure strict monitoring to keep the highly competitive ship-breaking yards in Sitakunda operative.

Rolling Mills Association President Mohammad Ali also expressed worries, saying small factories will collapse because of the ban on scrapping vessels.

Bangladesh Re-rolling Association Chairman Sheikh Maksudul Alam told the daily sun that more than 60 percent factories in the country already had to shut down because of the problems in the ship-breaking industry.

Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh President Nasrul Hamid Bipu said middle- and lower middle-class people will be the worst sufferers because of the high price of iron rod, which will affect the housing business seriously.

The price of a tonne of iron rod is already high on local market. The ban will further push up the price, he explained.

Source: The Daily Sun. 23/01/2011. by Shawkat Ali Khan