Pros and Cons of the Ship Breaking Industry in Bangladesh
In general, ships over 20 years are not considered sea-worthy and are literally dumped with all their steels, asbestos, and toxins on the beaches of some poorer countries, countries like Bangladesh.
In 1965, a violent storm left a giant cargo ship beached at Bhatiari and the ripping of that illfated vessel initiated the scrapping industry in our country.
Ships’ bodies are an excellent source of quality steel at rock-bottom prices. As Bangladesh desperately needs steel for constructions but has no iron-ore mines, therefore the ship breaking industry, which provides over 80% of the iron and steel usage in the country and employs thousands of unskilled labourers, is highly encouraged.
Ship breaking is a highly profitable industry. Buying an old ship is relatively easy as one need not see it. All that one needs to know is its weight and how much the owners will be charging for each ton of steel. Again, selling scrap is easy and fast too as the re-rolling mills always run out of stock.
Also, steel is not the only part of the deal, there are so many things which are sold off. It is infact a gigantic recyling operation. One can buy almost every electrical and mechanical tools along with household appliances, furnitures, machineries and utensils.
It is estimated that 97% of the ship’s content are recycled. The other 3% consisting of hazardous waste, asbestos, arsenic, mercury, engine oil, lubricant grease, iron rust and paints are left to foul the beaches creating an environmental disaster. To accomodate more ships, the coastal belt is being cleared off by felling of trees, which is also a major threat to our coastal embankments.
The industry engages mostly unskilled workers at low wages. These workers toil in tough conditions without safety equipments, resulting a very high casualty rate. Besides, many fall badly sick by working in the contaminated yards along with the people who live outsides. The workers are not given any medical facility and for losses of limbs or life, there is no compensation. So, it is high time to note the pros and cons of this industry and measure whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages or not.
--- Tanzina Ahmed Choudhury ---