20 October 2011

Shipbreaking security: Probe should result in upgrading safety

The death of four workers from toxic gas on October 17 in a Chittagong shipbreaking yard has resulted in the Department of Environment (DOE) fining a steel re-rolling company Taka 25 lakhs. The reason is that proper safety measures and precautions were not utilised. It was discovered by the DOE that the ship in question contained 61 cylinders of carbon dioxide gas which was released while the workers worked on it, causing their death.

This unfortunate incident has raised many other questions regarding the discovery of the irregularities which are practiced by the shipbreaking industry.

To begin with, many of these yards operate without any government authorizations and cut ships without permission from concerned government authorities. There were also no precautions taken to handle the toxic gases which are released in the shipbreaking process.

The coastal region of Bangladesh unfortunately has many shipbreaking yards which have functioned for years without proper registration and safety measures. Previous accidents caused on site have been ignored in defiance of Supreme Court directives to ensure the safety of the workers' lives. A further grave problem is that these shipbreaking yards also employ children.

It is clear that these shipbreaking yards are demonstrating pure negligence and a disregard for the law, endangering innocent lives. The steel which is obtained from this process is no doubt very useful and necessary for industrial purposes. However, it is inadmissible to be going about business endangering innocent lives.

There must be stricter measures put in place in the form of insistence on proper documentation. A higher number of coast guards could also prevent the entry of hazardous ships into our territory. What is clear is that unless strict measures are taken, these practices will continue endangering people and the environment.

Source: The Daily Star. 19 October 2011

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