25 January 2014

Turning shipbreaking into a safe, green industry:

Shipbreaking industry offers the promise of employing thousands of hitherto jobless workers in Bangladesh. The sector today supports the country's steel, shipbuilding and other heavy and light engineering industries. Some of the recycled materials are exported, and the rest is sold and reused within the country. A lot of the materials are of high value to the local economy. In particular, recycling of steel for producing iron rods for construction, plates for new ships or for many other purposes is a lucrative business. According to a FE report published late last week, Bangladesh emerged as the third largest shipbreaking nation in the world in 2013; in 2012, its ranking was the second.

However, problems regarding safety, health and environmental issues have created a negative image for the industry, despite its positive contribution to job creation in a country with a high rate of disguised and open unemployment. Only the other day, three workers were seriously burnt when fire broke out in a scrap vessel in Sitakunda in Chittagong. Previously, shipbreaking was done in industrial nations, but because of its hazardous nature of operations, it has been shifted to South Asian countries where safety and environmental regulations are more relaxed. About 90 per cent of shipbreaking in the world is done in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China.

The shipbreaking industry has, however, great potential in Bangladesh, having one of the longest coastlines. But then there must be adequate safeguards for workers' safety and environmental hazards associated with it. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has been trying to implement guidelines/regulations/conventions for qualitative improvement of shipbreaking industry around the globe since 2003. The 'Hong Kong International Convention for Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships' is one of them. The Hong Kong Convention (HKC) was adopted in May 2009 and will come into force upon fulfilment of some requirements. It is applicable to all merchant ships greater than 500 gross tonnage as well as to all ship-recycling facilities. The European Commission, too, is going to enforce the 'European Regulation on Ship Recycling'. One of the key issues of both regulations, which directly affect the ship recycling industry, is the authorisation of ship-recycling facilities. Many ship recycling yards which are not up to the mark, may be eliminated because of restricted authorisation of ship recycling facilities.

It is still possible to turn ship-breaking into a safe and green industry which is considered a hazardous job. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan account for almost 70 per cent of world shipbreaking in gross tonnage. According to a survey, over 1,00,000 workers are engaged in the ship-reaking industry in Bangladesh. Accident-prone, shipbreaking is still an informal industry, lacking basic amenities. Dialogue among employers, workers and the government is necessary to change the situation. At present, ship-breaking yards in Bangladesh occupy 12.78 kilometre area at Sitakunda while about two nautical miles of sea water have become contaminated by the industry. Shipbreaking should be made a safer and greener industry.  But the South Asian region, as a group, should create a pressure on the developed countries, which build ships, to take the responsibility for permanent disposal of hazardous shipping wastes.

Shipbreaking is definitely going to be affected, in one way or other, by the upcoming regulations. To hold Bangladesh's position in world shipbreaking, there is no other alternative but to comply with the HKC. However, it is not possible to comply with the HKC overnight. The country must upgrade the infrastructure for upstream and downstream waste management, and health and safety issues of the workers before trying to get the approval for facility of the yard. Bangladesh does need to start the process right now; otherwise, it might lose the business of shipbreaking in the near future.

Source: the financial express. 25 January 2014

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