European maritime majors are now ditching old vessels for scraps on Bangladeshi beaches in polluting and dangerous conditions that have taken workers’ lives, informs Human Rights Watch.
Beaches of Bangladesh’s southeastern Sitakunda have become one of the world’s largest shipbreaking yards, fuelling the South Asian country’s construction industry and its constant need for cheaper steel sources.
European companies are among those shipping majors that have sent 520 vessels to the site from 2020 onward, where several thousands of employees take apart vessels without using protective gear.
Firms scrapping vessels in Bangladesh’s polluting and dangerous yards are accumulating a significant profit at the expense of the lives of Bangladeshi people and the environment, stated Julia Bleckner, HRW researcher, on Thursday.
Shipping firms must stop abusing the loopholes in international laws and regulations and start taking responsibility for responsibly and safely managing waste.
Workers also told the HRW that they use socks as gloves to avoid getting burns as they cut through molten steel, cover their mouths with the shirts they are wearing to prevent inhalation of toxic fumes and carry vast chunks of steel barefoot.
The workers described their injuries from chunks of falling steel or getting trapped in a ship when it caught fire or when pipes exploded, HRW mentioned in its report, published with a Belgian NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
About 62 workers have so far lost their lives in accidents in a shipbreaking yard of Sitakunda since 2019, per a Bangladeshi environmental group named Young Power.
Two workers reportedly lost their lives last week in separate incidents after they fell from partially dismantled vessels, the police informed AFP.
The Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association (abbreviated as the BSBA) represents yard owners. It said its members moved to upgrade safety standards before an upcoming international convention on ecologically safe and sound scrapping to enter force in 2025.
Efforts have been made to transform shipbreaking yards into green yards, although it’s expensive, Mohammad Abu Taher, the BSBA President, told AFP. He added that they are currently working on that. Besides, they supply protective equipment to their workers.
Fazlul Kabir Mintu, the coordinator for Denmark’s funded Occupational Safety and Security Information Center, said that the yard owners operated within a climate of impunity due to their outsized influence on local politics.
There is no or little attention to the safety of workers in dozens of such yards, he informed AFP.
Many vessels sent to Sitakunda had asbestos, per Repon Chowdhury, OSHE Foundation charity’s executive director, who works with shipbreaking workers.
Asbestos is associated with life-threatening diseases like lung cancer, but Chowdhury informed AFP that the workers were compelled to mop with bare hands.
He added that the organization had studied 110 shipbreaking employees for exposure to toxic substances to find out that 33 tested positive.
All 33 employees were the victims of lung damage to varying degrees. Of all the victims, three have lost their lives, while the rest are in misery.
References: Aljazeera, India Posts English, Eurasian Media Network
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