News.com.au – Workers at Bangladesh’s Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard have one of the world’s deadliest jobs
24 April 2014 - IT’S back-breaking labour, and if you’re not killed by an explosion or stabbed by slices of steel, then the toxic fumes and asbestos will get you.
And if 16-hour days and dangerous conditions don’t appeal then spare a thought for the 200,000 workers who endure these and other horrific conditions daily in the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh.
For less than a few dollars a day, workers break down massive ships that are built to withstand the toughest of conditions.
Unfortunately for them — being exposed to horrific conditions and toxic materials is all just part of the job.
And while the shipbreaking process is tightly regulated and expensive in the west, it isn’t in Bangladesh, creating a booming industry for poor and unskilled workers who have no choice but to work here.
It remains lucrative for the owners, with the average ship yard making “roughly a $1 million profit on an investment of five million”, National Geographic reported.
The conditions of the shipbreaking yards are widely known.
But in a recent video for National Geographic uploaded to YouTube, NGO Shipbreaking Platform officer Muhammed Ali Shanin revealed just how deadly the job is.
“Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries” Mr Shanin said.
“Workers are really cheap here and environmental standards are also very, very low.”
The ageing ships, which are usually 25-30 years old, are brought to the 13 kilometre stretch of coastline which employs about 200,000 Bengalis who break down 150 to 200 ships a year. And he expects that number to grow.
Mr Shanin described how workers drag the ships onto shore to break them apart.
The ships are full of toxic waste and workers are forced to work without any protection.
“The most dangerous part of the job is cutting a ship from inside,” Mr Shanin said.
“Because there are toxic game. Flammable substances are contained inside the ship.”
When sparks connect with toxins it causes explosions, killing several workers at a time.
He said incidents of workers being killed through explosions of this kind were common.
He estimated at least 30 men had been killed during 2011-12 alone.
One worker revealed: “If you look away for one second you may get injured.”
Sadly, Bangladesh isn’t the only country being used as a dumping ground for the western world.
Ghana is home to the largest e-waste dumping site in the world just 32km from the city of Accra in a town called Agbogbloshie.
Here hundreds of workers break down electronic waste to extract metals, such as copper, by bashing the appliances with man-made tools and rocks — all for $2.50 a day. Many die of cancer in their 20s.
The electronic goods are filled with toxic materials and expensive to dump in developed countries, making countries such as Ghana a cost-saving option.