05 April 2014

Deaths at Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard: Contractors sued, owners spared

Police yesterday sued two contractors for hiring unskilled workers, four of whom were killed in a gas cylinder explosion at a ship breaking yard in Sitakunda of Chittagong the previous day. However, owners of the firm were not accused in the case filed with Sitakunda Police Station.

“We have primarily accused the two contractors as they hired those unskilled workers. But if we find the owners responsible for the accident, we will include their names in the case,” Saiful Islam, assistant superintendent of police (Sitakunda), told The Daily Star.

Sub-inspector Md Mozammel filed the case under sections 304 (ka) and 287 of the penal code which deal with accidental deaths due to negligence. The two accused, Abul Bashar and Jasim Uddin, have been on the run. 

The gas cylinder blasted when the victims were dismantling a scrap ship. All the four died for carbon dioxide inhalation.

The ship breaking yard Arafin Enterprise imported the toxic 5400 tonnes ship for scrapping. It sold some electrical equipment of the vessel to these contractors.

Talking to this newspaper, one of the owners of Arafin Enterprise Gias Uddin admitted that only 30 percent of around 200 to 250 workers at his ship breaking yard are skilled.

Asked about a court directive regarding cleaning of a ship before importing it, he said they made the scrap ship gas free before beaching it.

The victim workers were not supposed to dismantle the gas cylinder which caused the deaths, he added.

Gias also claimed that his firm provides all necessary safety gears to its workers.

However, his claim was rejected by Abdur Rahim, general secretary of the Bangladesh Ship Breaker Workers Federation.

The labour leader said he earlier had alerted the owners of Arafin Enterprise to its poor working condition, but in vain.

Visiting the ship breaking yard just a day before the accident, Rahim found that most of the workers there were unskilled and without any safety gears. 

Meanwhile, the ship yard owners gave Tk 10,000 to each family of the four deceased workers to meet burial expenses.

The victims' families were in the dark till yesterday about filing a case by police in this connection. 
Md Rafik, uncle of two victim workers, deceased Arif and injured Akbar, blamed the negligence of the ship yard owners for the disaster.

“The workers did not have any idea about the potential danger in the work. If police do not sue the owners, we will file a case against them,” he added.

Gias Uddin along with his sibling Kamal Uddin jointly own at least two nearby ship breaking yards in Kadam Rasul area of Sitakunda.

Earlier, sexagenarian worker Yusuf Ali Talukder of Jhalakathi died at this ship breaking yard falling from the deck of a scrap ship on October 18, 2012.

Meanwhile, though it was reported at first that three workers were injured in the blast, later the number has been confirmed to be two.

The two wounded workers Akbar Ali and Ramzan Ali were recovering at Al Amin Hospital in the port city's AK Khan Gate area, said hospital sources.

Autopsies were carried out on the bodies of the four dead workers at Chittagong Medical College Hospital on Thursday night. The family members of the victims yesterday buried the bodies, two in Chittagong city and two others at a village in Banshkhali.

Source: the daily star. 5 April 2014

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