|Ship dismantling in Chittagong, Bangladesh|
In general, ships over 20 years are not considered sea-worthy and are literally dumped with all their steel, asbestos, and toxins on the beaches of some developing countries, including
In 1965, a violent storm beached a giant cargo ship at Bhatiari and the scrapping of that ill-fated vessel initiated the shipbreaking industry in our country.
Ships' hulls are an excellent source of quality steel at rock-bottom price. Bangladesh desperately needs steel for construction work, but as it has no iron-ore mines, the shipbreaking industry, which provides over 80% of the iron and steel needed in the country and employs thousands of unskilled labourers, is encouraged almost blindly.
Shipbreaking is a highly profitable enterprise. Buying an old ship is relatively easy, as it needs no physical verification. All that one needs to know is its weight and how much the owners will be charging for each tonne of steel. Again, selling of scrap is easy and fast too, as the re-rolling mills always run out of stock.
Also, steel is not the only part of the deal. There are so many other things which can be sold off. It is in fact a gigantic recycling operation. One can buy almost all kinds of electrical appliances and mechanical tools along with household fixtures, furniture, machinery and utensils.
It is estimated that 97% of the ship's contents are re-cycled. The other 3%, consisting of hazardous wastes, asbestos, arsenic, mercury, engine oil, lubricant grease, iron rust and paints are left to foul the beaches, creating an environmental disaster of disturbing proportions. To accommodate more ships, the coastal belt is being cleared off by felling trees, which is also a major threat to our coastal embankments.
The industry engages mostly unskilled workers at low wages. These workers toil in tough conditions without safety equipment, resulting in a very high casualty rate. Besides, many fall badly sick while working in the contaminated yards as well as those who live in the vicinity of shipbreaking yards.
The workers are not given any medical facility and for losses of limbs or life, there is no compensation. So, it is high time the pros and cons of this industry are seriously considered to measure whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages or not.
Source: The Financial Express. Tanzina Ahmed Choudhury. 10 May 2011http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/more.php?page=detail_news&news_id=135191&date=2011-05-10