The News – Ship-breaking yards should be closed in South Asia

18 September 2011 – Advocate Supreme Court of Bangladesh and Programmes Director Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, has said that ship-breaking yards should be closed in South Asia, as these are not environmentally safe, economically beneficial and socially productive.

Syeda Rizwana was speaking at a seminar on Environmental and social issues of ship-breaking industry organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute here on Thursday. Dr Aurangzaib Khan, Chief Environment, Planning Commission of Pakistan chaired the session.

Syeda Rizwana said that although ship-breaking industry provides 25 per cent of iron core and livelihood to 18,000 workers, yet its environmental and social costs are unprecedented for Bangladesh. She revealed that coastal fishing in Chittagong is almost gone, 14 species of fish have become extinct, thousands of acres of mangrove forest are chopped off and the whole area have become chemically polluted with un-reparable damage to human health.

She said that civil society organisations in Bangladesh successfully campaigned against ship-breaking yards. As a result, Supreme Court of Bangladesh in a landmark decision directed the Bangladesh government to introduce regulations and allow only those ships for breaking in Bangladesh, which are thoroughly cleaned by ship owners for all types of chemicals, pollutants, residues and contaminations. As cleaning of ships is extremely costly, ship breaking became no more economically viable, she said adding that this decision put a temporary hold on industry for some time but ship breaking again restarted in complicity with government officials after paying hefty bribes to them.

She rejected International Maritime Organisations regulations, which placed responsibility on ship-breakers and not on western ship owners who are responsible for contamination. She pointed out that Western countries are evading responsibilities, as they do not directly send ships to South Asia for breaking. Instead, they send the ships to places like Monrovia, change flags and then send to South Asia for ship-breaking to avoid environmental binding and regulations.

She emphasised that we need to send clear message to western world that our beaches are not dumping grounds and lives of our poor labourers are not cheap to play with.

She warned that Pakistan is once again becoming the hub of unsafe ship-breaking activities as 107 ships were dismantled this year as compared to 7 ships last year.

Dr Aurangzaib said that social and environmental aspects of ship-breaking industry require serious considerations at policy level. He extended his support to steer the environmental agenda and stressed for close working of Planning Commission of Pakistan with civil society on the subject.

Earlier, documentary Iron Eaters was screened after which Kanwar M Javed Iqbal from SDPI gave a detailed presentation on ship-breaking industry, its issues and possible solutions. He said that South Asia and China account for 70 to 80 per cent of the world market for ship-breaking of ocean-going vessels mainly due to a shift seen in 1980 as a result of global environmental order when several countries enacted legislation to ban ship-breaking in their countries.

He called for workers registration, obligatory onsite pollution and safety control equipment, provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to workers, drafting and implementing environmental health and safety procedures and Ship Recycling Protocol, training/capacity building, healthcare system and hazardous waste disposal and thermal treatment facility.