South Asians for Human Rights

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Court directs ship-breakers to submit safety certificates before import

The Supreme Court yesterday directed Bangladesh Ship Breakers’ Association (BSBA) to execute the High Court order to get all scrap ships decontaminated at source and outside Bangladesh territory.

A full bench of the SC passed the order during hearing of an appeal filed by BSBA seeking a stay on the HC order. The BSBA sought to import toxic ships within the interim period until the government formulates guidelines for the ship-breaking yards.

The HC division in its order on May 11 directed BSBA to have pre-cleaning certificate of decontamination before importing vessels into Bangladesh for breaking.

“The order means the ship breakers would not be able to import toxic ships,” said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA).

A full bench of the Appellate Division headed by Chief Justice Mohammad Fazlul Karim observed that value of life [of ship-breaking labourers] could not be justified by money in any manner.

The SC observation came as the BSBA counsels were arguing ships cannot be imported for breaking due to the HC order and the ship-breaking industry is facing loss and labours are losing jobs.

On March 17 last year the HC asked the government to shut down ship-breaking yards in two weeks if they do not take environment clearance certificates.

The court also directed the government not to allow import of any contaminated ships built with toxic substances and ordered all ship-breaking yards to obtain environmental clearance certificate from the government.

However, at least 24 workers were killed, mostly due to explosions and coming in contact with toxic materials, while 24 others were maimed in 15 accidents in 15 shipyards as the HC order was not obeyed in last 16 months.

The apex court also ordered the association to comply with the HC order that had said the Department of Shipping could issue no objection certificates (NOCs) for scrap ships. But the NOCs must be issued after seeing certificates of proper authorities stating about decontamination of ships and guarantee of ship exporters saying those are not hazardous.

The Appellate Division adjourned hearing on the appeal by BSBA for four months and asked the association to move their appeal before it after implementing the HC order, advocate Iqbal Kabir Lytton of BELA told The Daily Star.

Following the court’s order to take pre-cleaning certificates from exporters, the Ministry of Commerce amended the Import Policy Order, 2009-12 to comply with it.

This amendment was changed on request from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) that purported to allow ships to enter Bangladesh with in-built, poisonous and cancerous substances for safe disposal, of which Bangladesh does not have minimum facilities.

With blessings from the MoEF, the ship breakers continued importing dirty ships that eventually had to stop by virtue of the order of May 11, 2010.

The BELA filed a petition with the HC in November last year seeking directive for stopping import of ships for breaking without pre-cleaning and environmental certificates from exporting countries.

Following the petition, the HC bench of Justice Md Imman Ali and Justice Obaidul Hasan on May 11 ruled that no ship could be imported without pre-cleaning and environmental certificates.

The court said the Department of Shipping could issue NOCs only to those ships that have such certificates and comply with other legal obligations. The ship exporters have to ensure that their ships are not hazardous.

Following a petition filed by BSBA on March 24, 2009, the SC stayed the HC verdict of March 17, 2009 on closure of the ship-breaking yards upholding other parts of the verdict.

The SC yesterday also adjourned hearing of the appeal of BSBA against the HC verdict of March 17, 2009.

Azmalul Hossain, AFM Mesbahuddin, Anisul Huq and Additional Attorney General MK Rahman appeared for BSBA, while Syed Amirul Islam, AM Amin Uddin and Syeda Rizwana Hasan were present for BELA.

Source: The Daily Star – 23.08.2010