Shipbreaking yards: Where safety takes a back seat

In the past 18 years, 251 workers have been killed in accidents at shipbreaking yards.

Arun Bikash Dey

Arun Bikash Dey

The Daily Star


File Photo

March 10, 2023

DHAKA – Another accident occurred at a shipbreaking yard in Chattogram’s Sitakunda upazila yesterday, claiming one life. But such accidents, and the injuries and deaths that accompany them, are nothing new there.

In the past 18 years, 251 workers have been killed in accidents at shipbreaking yards.

According to experts and rights activists, frequent accidents have been occurring at these sites due to the “sheer negligence” of owners regarding workers’ safety.

Yesterday morning, Ashraf Mollah, 66, hailing from Narail’s Lohagara upazila, died while working at Taher Ship Breaking Yard, located at Bara Auliya, said Sub-Inspector Nurul Alam Ashek of Chattogram Medical College Hospital (CMCH) Police Camp.

“Mollah sustained burn injuries from an explosion while cutting a pipe in a ship,” Nurul said. “He was rushed to CMCH in a critical condition, and the on-duty physician declared him dead around 11:00am.”

According to the data of NGO Shipbreaking Platform, an international coalition campaigning for clean and safe ship recycling, 249 people were killed in accidents in Sitakunda between 2005 and 2022.

At least two workers have been killed this year so far.

File Photo

According to international rules, owners must remove toxic elements from a ship before bringing it ashore for breaking, but most owners do not properly do this, said Tapan Dutta, convener of Shipbreaking Workers’ Trade Union Forum.

As per rules, owners must train workers before making them break ships, but most do not follow this. Instead, they just let newcomers do the work without training, which raises the risk of accidents, he said.

Fazlul Kabir Mintu, a member of the forum, said owners do not provide workers with adequate safety gear, and so when any accident occurs, workers are more likely to be vulnerable. Due to this, the rate of death in these accidents is so high.

“As per the labour law, a worker involved in risky work should get rest for half an hour after every two hours of work, so that they can concentrate,” said Mintu. “This rule is absent at shipbreaking yards.”

A press release of NGO Shipbreaking Platform, issued on June 2, 2022, stated, “Since the beginning of 2022, out of the 18 accidents that shook Bangladesh’s shipbreaking industry, six have taken place at yards owned by Kabir Steel Re-Rolling Mills (KSRM), a concern of the conglomerate Kabir Group.”

Asked, Dulalul Karim, director of Kabir Steel Shipbreaking Yard, said they try their best to ensure workers’ safety and supply all safety equipment. However, accidents still occurred at times.

Contacted, Abu Taher, president of Bangladesh Ship Breakers and Recyclers Association, said out of 300 shipbreaking yards, 30 are now operating in Sitakunda. “All the owners are now receptive to making the yards safe for workers.”

Shuvankar Dutta, inspector at the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment, said he heard about the accident in Taher Shipbreaking Yard. “I am looking into it.”

About frequent accidents, he said work is ongoing to make the yards green. “Seven yards have already applied for this, and we have certified two of them as green yards.”

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