“Chittagong – the graveyard of ships” is a selection of pictures taken in 2014 by Gönna Ketels, a reporter for the German media Deutsche Welle. The pictures were posted online by DW here. Please contact her in case you wish to publish them in high resolution. We republish these pictures in low resolution with the consent of Deutsche Welle. Please scroll down to read the captions.
1. Rest in Peace? The southern Bangladeshi city of Chittagong is home to dozens of shipbreaking yards. It’s a multi-million euro industry, which employs some 200,000 workers in the country. In most cases these workers use their bare hands to break the cruisers apart. Injuries and even deaths are not a rare occurrence.
2. Alamgir – the ship grave digger. We meet Alamgir in our #headabovewater episode. He is paid less than five euros for a 14-hour day. He’s been working since he was nine years old. He’s not entitled to any sick pay or holidays.
3. Smashed to pieces. The lifespan of a cargo ship is between 25 and 30 years. After that, the insurance and maintenance costs are generally no longer considered worth the money. Many of the vessels end up being broken apart by unskilled workers in developing countries like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
4. Dangerous destruction. The first step in the shipbreaking process involves tearing apart the vessel’s interior. It’s a back-breaking job; after all, oceangoing ships are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions and be next to impossible to break apart. With few safety conditions in place, it’s a dangerous and potentially deadly job.
5. Slow death. Most workers are not supplied with protective gear. They scrap the ships with their bare hands, using acetylene torches. Inadequately trained, they frequently run the risk of being injured in an accident or an explosion.
6. Hazardous conditions. Shipbreakers are exposed to toxic substances which can cause lung problems and even cancer. Many workers who fall ill do not get adequate treatment and receive little or no compensation from authorities.
7. Steel life. According to the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, around 200 ships get stranded on the coast of Chittagong every year. The country sources most of its steel from scrapping large cargo ships. With a growing economy, the domestic demand for steel is set to increase. North of Chittagong is the country’s shipbreaking capital – an eight-mile stretch of the coast along the Bay of Bengal.
8. Accidental history. Shipbreaking yards have been around in Chittagong since 1969. The industry began by accident; a few years earlier, a Bangladeshi steel company bought a random stranded ship and started pulling it apart. While the process took years, it marked the beginning of an industry.
9. Children at work. Child labor is common in the shipbreaking industry. In Bangladesh, children under 15 make up a fifth of the workforce. It’s estimated that half of ship breakers are under the age of 22. Many minors work as gas cutters’ assistants and carriers. The children are deprived from education and are forced to work under extreme circumstances.
10. Salvaged goods. The workers sell what they find inside the ship in stores around Chittagong. Items for sale range from ship parts and furniture, to personal items left behind by the shipowners.
11. No visitors allowed. Chittagong used to be a tourist attraction, but today there are no outsiders allowed to visit the ship graveyard. The toxic byproducts leave the site a poisonous place to go to and destroy environment and harm the local population. Attempts in regulating the shipyards and outlawing ship breaking on beaches were ignored by the Bangladeshi government.