February 2, 2024
DHAKA – Out of 446 ships scrapped worldwide, 170 ended up in Chattogram beaches, making Bangladesh the biggest dumping yard for end-of-life vessels in the world last year.
Of them 159 were built before 2002, the year the International Maritime Organisation banned the use of cancer-causing material asbestos on ships. It is highly likely that these ships had asbestos in them as the mineral was widely used in ships for insulation.
Among the ships scrapped, 59 were owned by Chinese shipping companies while companies based in Thailand and Hong Kong sent 15 each, according to a list of ships dismantled worldwide released by NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
Japanese and South Korean companies sent eight ships each while the UAE, Greek, Singaporean, Russian, and Indonesian companies sent six each.
None of these ships carried flags of the country where these companies are based. Instead, they carried “flags of convenience”, a practice whereby owners register a ship with a country other than that of the ship’s owners for certain benefits or to avoid tax or reduce operating costs. This conceals the actual owner.
They had flags of St Kitts & Nevis, Sierra Leone, Comoros, Liberia, Panama, Gabon and other countries.
European Union Ship Recycling Regulation mandates that vessels carrying EU flags can only be scrapped in yards approved by the EU. The scrap yards in Chattogram are not EU approved.
The six Greek ships that were scrapped in Chattogram carried the flags of Comoros, Bahamas, and Liberia.
Japan is a signatory to the Hong Kong Convention, a United Nations treaty by the International Maritime Organisation that mandates ships are not recycled in ways that harm human lives and the environment. Bangladesh has also been a signatory since last year.
The eight Japanese ships also carried flags of convenience, namely St Kitts & Nevis, Mongolia, Panama and Nauru.
The NGO platform said, “Almost half of the ships beached in 2023 (globally) changed their original flag to a grey-or-black-listed flag registry just weeks before hitting the beach.”
By “grey-or-black-listed”, the platform meant countries that were classified as non-compliant by the Paris MoU on Port State Control, an administrative body governing standards in the coasts of Europe and North America.
Ships to be scrapped are bought by cash-buyers from countries like St Kitts and Nevis, Comoros, Palau offering “last voyage” packages, said the NGO Platform, which often hides their original flags.
According to the Platform data from last year, a worker named Biddut, 43, fell from a height of 10 feet and got injured on June 15 while working on a Greek ship called Salamis, owned by the Polys Haji-Ioannou Group.
Several workers cutting South Korean ships owned by the Sinokor company sustained injuries or died last year. On September 19, a worker called Nazam Uddin, 33, died after falling from a Sinokor-owned ship called Adriatic Energy. He worked at the NB Steel shipyard.
On April 1, a worker named Babul, 45, was injured when using a cutting machine to dismantle Caribbean Energy, also of Sinokor; on November 10, Toha, 25 fell from a height and got injured while cutting the company’s Grace Energy at Narmeen Ship Recycling; on February 13, Foysal, 32, fell from a height and was injured while working on the company’s Atlantic Energy.
Since 2009, there have been 447 worker deaths in ship-breaking yards, and past studies have found that up to a third of workers suffer from asbestosis, a chronic lung condition.
In a press release issued yesterday, the platform said China tops the list for dumping the largest number of ships. “Despite the existence of state-of-the-art ship recycling facilities at national level, Chinese owners sold 71 vessels for scrapping in South Asia, 59 of which were beached in Bangladesh. While China has banned the import of waste as part of its efforts to clean its own environment and improve the quality of life of its citizens, the Chinese shipping industry is getting away with dumping its toxic waste on some of the most vulnerable communities and environments in the world,” said the statement.
The Bangladeshi $6.5 billion steel re-rolling industry gets only 10 percent of its steel from ship-breaking, according to industry insiders.