(Written by Pankaj Dastider)
11 May 2015 - CHITTAGONG, May 10: Some international quarters have taken a stance against Bangladesh’s ship-breaking industry citing concerns on the safety and environment fronts.
The Norwegian Ship Owners’ Association (NSA) at a recent convention in Singapore advised its members not to allow recycling of their ships in Bangladesh, unless it is clearly monitored and undertaken as part of projects aimed at improving standards as per the Hong Kong International Convention for ‘Safe and Environmentally Sound’ recycling of ships.
According to sources, Tor Christian Sletner, NSA’s head of environment, told delegates at the Trade Winds Ship Recycling Forum in Singapore in mid-March that the NSA decided not to export their ships for recycling in Bangladesh, as several attempts to raise the ship recycling standards in the country failed.
The NSA said they would love to work, as they had done for decades, with the ship breaking yards in Bangladesh, but they had to have a standard. Norway is one of the only three countries to have ratified the Hong Kong Convention alongside France and the Republic of Congo.
Bangladesh’s representative in the meeting has responded to it. He said Sletner might not have taken note of the actual situation prevailing at a good number of ship-breaking yards along the Bay in Chittagong, including PHP Ship Breaking and Recycling Industry.
Md Zahirul Islam Rinku, who represented Bangladesh in the meeting as executive member (foreign affairs) of the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association (BSBA) has told the FE that ship-breaking is an industrial process and it can leave a positive impact on the economy with 0.3 million (3 lakh) workers involved with it.
“Well, this is our livelihood and we know we’re doing it responsively. Unless and until we move out of this, nothing will improve. You’re putting everyone in the same basket, which is wrong. There are many good yards. You need to visit them to open your eyes,” he said in response to the presentation of the Norwegian Ship-owners’ Association. His comment drew applause from the delegates, he said.
Thirty representatives from different international organisations, including ship sellers from the European Union (EU), scrap ship buyers, non-government organisations (NGOs) and environment forums participated in the meeting.
At another workshop in Belgium also Zahirul strongly protested against the move of the EU to ban export of scrap ships to Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries.
Twenty-eight countries under the EU are reported to have prepared a guideline under pressure of NGOs banning export of their ships to the subcontinent – Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
The EU countries account for at least 20 per cent of the total scrap ships sold around the globe. Bangladesh will have to face an uneven competition in the international market, if the scrap ships from those countries are not available.
The EU guidelines will take at least six months to be finalised and two years to be executed. Before that, the representatives of Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association will meet with ambassadors of the EU, Germany and the Netherlands in Dhaka, according to sources.
The scrap ship buyers are supposed to send a letter to the EU countries through the ambassadors urging them not to exclude Bangladesh from the export list considering its socio-economic and geo-political condition and its developing economy.
A work plan for improving health facilities, workers’ safety, solution to hazardous waste management and oil pollution under the a partnership project funded by the German Development Bank KFW-DEG and TUV Rheinland Group is already in the process of implementation.
The BSBA and the Ministry of Industries have also planned to set up a central dumping zone for the ship recycling sector in future. The Netherlands Embassy in Dhaka has extended its financial support for the three-month training of trainers in the sector. Upgradation of facilities like fire fighting, cylinder storage and drinking water is also in the process.
A delegation, including the Ambassador of the Netherlands and Charge d’ Affaire of Germany, has recently visited the PHP ship recycling yard and expressed satisfaction. They have termed it a model ship breaking yard.
Experts have opined that Bangladesh is a unique place for ship-breaking and ship-recycling as nearly all the products available from dismantled ships are being used locally. They say the industry has improved safety standards for workers through various steps including training, supply of safety equipment, medical facilities and raising awareness about environment.
During the period from January 2008 to December 2014, Bangladesh demolished a total of 1,253 ships in the yards on the Sitakunda beach, with an annual turnover of Tk 40 to 50 billion (4000-5000 crore). 147 ships were dismantled weighing 11,05,099 LDT (light displaced tonnage) of scrap in eight months from May to December, 2014.