South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Four workers died and another suffered critical burns in an explosion yesterday at a ship-breaking yard in Sitakunda during scrapping a tanker that entered the country violating the High Court’s directive.

The cause of the explosion at Mak Corporation Ship-Breaking Yard could not be known immediately.

The owner of the MAK Corporation expressed his surprise over the explosion saying “there was no scrapping going on at the yard”.

However, a worker who was near the scene said the explosion occurred while dismantling a fuel tank.

According to newspaper reports, as many as 30 workers died and 16 others were maimed in last 21 months in 16 explosions in 16 ship-breaking yards. Besides, many others escaped with minor injuries and their number was not recorded by anyone.

Accidents continue hitting the industry as the government did not properly comply with the HC order and let the owners operate without equipping their workers with necessary safety measures.

Mak Corporation was the first on the list of 20 yards that the government provided conditional environmental clearance certificates in a hasty move in October last year. Officials of the Department of Environment also claimed these yards had taken up adequate safety measures.

“I don’t have any idea how the explosion occurred. My officials are investigating it,” said Jafar Ahmed, director of the Department of Environment, Chittagong. He claimed they regularly visited the ship-breaking yards and were happy with their progress regarding safety measures.

Deputy Director of Chittagong fire service Ruhul Amin told The Daily Star last night the firefighters brought the fire under control by the evening.

Locals said the explosion was so huge that it could be heard from two miles away.

Owner of the yard and also Vice-President of the Ship Breakers Owners Association Master Abul Kashem said the ship in which the accident occurred was “not being scrapped”.

But pictures taken soon after the accident clearly show dismantling activities amid billowing smoke.

“We have reports that our night guards lit a fire to escape from the cold that caused the fire. But we cannot confirm anything now,” Kashem said.

Three workers were admitted to Chittagong Medical College Hospital with severe burns around 2:00pm and two of them died, said Dr Mohammad Ayub, head of Burns and Plastic Surgery Unit, CMCH.

Dr Ayub said Miraj, 18, with 100 percent burns died at 2:30pm, while the other worker Rubel, 25, died 15 minutes later with 50 percent burns.

Nur Mohammad, OC of Sitakunda police, said the bodies of Liton, 35, of Noakhali and Jubayed, 22, were recovered after the firefighters left the scene.

The injured worker is undergoing treatment with 50 percent burns. Another victim with minor injury was released after giving first aid, doctors said.

Casualties at the Sitakunda ship-breaking yards are frequent and some even remain unreported at times.

The owners have yet to take adequate safety measures despite the HC orders, exposing hundreds of workers to life risk.

The MAK Corporation imported the exploded Pranam (IMO registration 8321383) along with two other ships — Sea Pearl and Norsul — in the end of 2010. Though the DoE was served legal notice for violating the court order, it let Kashem to import those ships.

Kashem claimed the three ships were “put on line for scrapping” at his yard with authorisation from relevant departments including the DoE.

The HC in March 2009 directed the government not to allow any ship in Bangladesh without cleaning its in-built toxins.

In its order the HC on March 17, 2009 directed the government to close operation of all ship-breaking yards in two weeks for running without environmental clearance.

Later the Supreme Court stayed the HC order for closing the yards, while all other verdicts sustained.

During that time only 36 ship-breaking yards were in operation. The number has now shot up to over 100 despite the court directed the government not to allow any new yards to start operation without clearance certificates.

In the order the HC considering the country’s environmental degradation also ordered that no ship would enter Bangladesh territory for scrapping without cleaning its hazardous materials at source or outside the territory.

The court also directed the Ministry of Environment and Forest to frame necessary rules on ship-breaking within three months relying on the obligations of Bangladesh under the Basel Convention, 1989, the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 and the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997.

According to the existing environmental law, the ship-breaking yards are identified as category Red [extremely dangerous] and environmental clearance certificate is mandatory for them although ship-breaking yards had been operating without clearance.

Presently, there are 50 ship-breaking yards that have applied for clearance certificates without proper structures or modern facilities of dismantling ships.

Almost all of the yards scrap vessels on open beach and dismantle them manually, which is extremely risky for the workers. Each year many die and scores more suffer injuries in this industry.

Source: The Daily Star – 19.01.2011