Challenges and Incidents in the Shipbreaking Industry of South Asia
The shipbreaking industry, a vital part of the global maritime trade, often operates under the radar, obscured by a lack of transparency and inadequate reporting mechanisms. This article sheds light on the precarious conditions faced by workers in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, where accidents are underreported, and the impact remains largely unknown. We will delve into recent incidents, explore the human toll of shipbreaking work, and discuss the developments in South Asia, including legal actions and policy changes.
I. The Veil of Transparency:
The shipbreaking sector, notorious for its lack of transparency, poses a serious challenge in understanding the full extent of accidents and their consequences. In Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, authorities and the shipbreaking industry provide no official data, making it challenging to assess the scale and impact of incidents accurately. Moreover, the absence of monitoring and recording of occupational diseases, including cancer, further complicates understanding the health risks faced by workers.
II. Incidents and Human Impact:
- Rashel’s Fall at Ferdous Steel: On October 10th, Rashel, a 27-year-old fitter man, suffered injuries from an 8-10 feet fall while working at Ferdous Steel. The ship involved, HARMONIA (IMO 9132947), belonged to a Chinese shipping company. Fortunately, Ferdous Steel covered Rashel’s hospital treatment, emphasizing the industry’s responsibility for worker well-being.
- Burn Injuries at Prime Trade Corporation: On October 29th, Sayrudun, a 42-year-old worker, sustained burn injuries to his face caused by oil during the dismantling of an unidentified vessel at Prime Trade Corporation. Despite the accident occurring during a night shift, the owner funded three days of treatment. Sayrudun returned to his home village after recovery.
- Tarek’s Fall at Chittagong Ship Breaking and Recycling Yard: On November 1st, Tarek, a 30-year-old worker, fell from an unidentified ship at Chittagong Ship Breaking and Recycling Yard, resulting in injuries. The lack of details about the ship underscores the industry’s opacity, making it challenging to track and address safety concerns.
- Accident at Kabir Group Yard – Madambibir: On November 9th, an accident at Kabir Group yard injured three workers, Minto (25), Rashal (30), and Ronjit (35), who were hit by an iron plate during dismantling operations on the NORTH ENERGY. Such incidents highlight the risks workers face daily in shipbreaking yards.
III. Developments in South Asia:
- Legal Action Following Md. Russell’s Death: The death of Md. Russell (24) on August 26th at a Chattogram shipbreaking yard prompted legal action. Six individuals, including the shipbreaking owner, contractor, cutterman, and a police station officer, face charges of murder and concealing the victim’s body. Russell’s tragic death exposes the conflicts and hazards prevalent in the industry.
IV. Developments in India:
- Committee Disqualifies Shipbreaking Steel Plates: India’s Steel Ministry Committee disqualified the use of shipbreaking steel plates for the production of thermos-mechanical treated (TMT) steel. The decision, informed by representatives from various entities, including MECON, NISST, and the Ministry of Ports, Shipping & Waterways, reflects a step towards stricter regulations.
V. Developments in Pakistan:
- Ratification of the Hong Kong Convention: Pakistan, the 23rd country to ratify the Hong Kong Convention, aligns itself with global efforts to improve shipbreaking standards. The Convention, set to enter into force in June 2025, provides an opportunity to strengthen regulations and eliminate the hazardous beaching method. This move follows Bangladesh and India, making all three major shipbreaking nations party to the Convention.
- Challenges and Opportunities: While the ratification is a positive step, challenges remain. The Hong Kong Convention must evolve to align with international environmental laws and address developments since its adoption in 2009. Recent advancements, such as the UAE’s Ship Recycling Regulation banning beaching methods, underscore the need for continuous improvement in shipbreaking practices.
The shipbreaking industry in South Asia grapples with a serious lack of transparency, leading to underreported accidents and obscured health risks. Recent incidents highlight the urgent need for improved safety measures and regulations to protect the workers who contribute to this essential yet perilous sector. Legal actions and policy changes, such as those in India and Pakistan, signal a shift toward recognizing and addressing the industry’s challenges. As South Asian nations work towards safer and more sustainable shipbreaking practices, it is crucial to prioritize transparency, worker welfare, and adherence to international standards for a safer and more sustainable shipbreaking industry.