Toxic Trade News / 18 March 2009
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Court Ruling Could Sink Bangladesh Shipbreaking Industry
by Steve Herman, Voice of America
18 March 2009 (New Delhi) – Environmentalists are hailing a Bangladesh High Court decision to order the closure, in two weeks, of all ship-salvaging yards which do not have environmental clearances. The judges also have banned "toxic" ships from entering Bangladeshi waters. The much-criticized industry is believed to employ tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh High Court has ordered that the country's ship-dismantling operations must close in two weeks if they do not obtain government environmental clearances.

Bangladesh is one of the world's top destinations for ships being dismantled for scrap metals and other materials.

Syeda Rizawana Hasan, the director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, which filed the public interest litigation, calls the judgement a landmark decision.

"The court has expressly said Bangladesh cannot be treated as a dumping ground of hazardous waste," said Hasan. "The court has really tried to address the long-standing inaction by the secretary agencies in regulating the shipbreaking industries in line with international conventions and the national law."

The court chastised relevant government ministries for not enforcing environmental laws.

The ruling affects all 36 shipyards which have no environmental certification.

The industry in Bangladesh is expected to appeal the court decision. The judges in their ruling Tuesday also banned any vessels entering Bangladeshi waters that are on the toxic ship list maintained by the non-governmental organization Greenpeace.

Environmental and human rights organizations, for years, have campaigned against the salvaging industry. They contend the vessels being scrapped frequently contained toxic materials and safety equipment is not provided for the laborers.

In Bangladesh the industry says it provides for the livelihoods, directly or indirectly, of 250,000 people.

Lawyer and activist Hasan says that does not mitigate putting at risk so many lives.

"This is not employment. This is exploitation," said Hasan.

International organizations say accidents, resulting in deaths and injuries, frequently occur along the shores of Sitakunda in the Bay of Bengal, home to the industry in Bangladesh. It is considered by many experts to be the world's busiest hub for salvaging of ships.

The "NGO Platform on Shipbreaking" says South Asia's shores are attractive for scrapping vessels because of the cheap labor costs and lax enforcement or lack of environmental and safety standards.

Hundreds of vessels are scrapped annually - mainly in Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Vietnam.

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