Ship-breaking ordered shut
by Staff Correspondent, The Daily Star
18 March 2009 – The High Court has directed the government to close in two weeks operation of all ship-breaking yards for running without environmental clearance.
None of the existing 36 ship-breaking yards, which are identified as category Red [extremely dangerous], has taken or applied for environmental clearance from the government, reveals a report submitted to the court by the Department of Environment.
The HC considering the country's environmental degradation also ordered that no ship would enter Bangladesh territory for breaking without cleaning its hazardous materials at source or outside the territory.
The HC bench of Justice Md Iman Ali and Justice Sheikh Abdul Awal gave the directives following a writ filed by Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA).
The court also clearly imposed a bar on any Greenpeace listed toxic ship's entry into the waters of Bangladesh.
The court ordered the DoE to implement the directives within two weeks from receiving the order and directed the government to form a committee to monitor the implementation process.
As per the HC order, no ship-breaking operation will take place from now on without environmental clearance. The government has to ensure that ships are broken after safe working condition for the workers is guaranteed and shipyards have appropriate disposal arrangements for hazardous waste and protection of environment.
The Court expressing utter dismay has observed that none of the ministries has cooperated to ensure compliance with the environmental laws. Besides, the Department of Shipping has always taken interest in importing more and more ships ignoring public interest, workers' welfare and environmental protection, the court observed.
The court also directed the ministry of Environment and Forest to frame within three months necessary rules on ship-breaking relying on the obligations of Bangladesh under the Basel Convention, 1989, the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 and the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997.
The ministry has been ordered to inform the court after three months the status of framing of the rules.
Some 30,000 workers are engaged in ship scrapping in Chittagong's Sitakunda, which houses the world's second largest ship-breaking industry after China. At least 250,000 people in the country live off the industry directly and indirectly, according to experts.
Last year 84 vessels were scrapped in Sitakunda. Scrapping a ship takes one month to one and a half months depending on its size.
According to an International Labour Organisation report, 551 minor and 42 major accidents took place in the country's 36 ship-breaking outfits from 1996 to 1998.
The recent report of a survey conducted by two internationally reputed organisations, Greenpeace and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), says on average at least one worker is injured a day and one dies a week.
The report styled "The Human Cost of Breaking Ships" published last December simultaneously from Bangladesh, India and Switzerland says at least 1,000 workers died in the last 20 years in Bangladesh's ship-breaking yards. The figures do not include the deaths from diseases caused by toxic fumes and materials workers are exposed to all the time.
Globally some 700 ships are scrapped a year, mainly in five countries --China, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Vietnam -- and some in Turkey too, says a Greenpeace source.
With the global fleet growing fast, from 15,000 ships in the 1960s to 62,000 in 2000, and with the ships built before 1970 being sorted out for decommissioning, the number of ships to be condemned for scrapping will also rise in future.
The Daily Star carried out reports about all those Greenpeace listed ships even before entering the country's territory and dismantling.
The lawyers' association filed the writ in September last year, challenging entry of Greenpeace listed ship MT Enterprise into Bangladesh territory. Earlier, two such ships -- MT Alfaship and SS Norway -- were however denied entry into Bangladesh waters.
Following the court directives yesterday, BELA in an instant petition sought further judicial intervention for direction upon the government to frame rules and regulate ship-breaking. The association alleged that the government was reluctant in compliance with the earlier judgment pronounced on July 6, 2006 in the case of MT Alfaship by another HC bench.
The court also asked the respective respondents to convey the court orders to shipyards by special messengers so that there is no delay in complying with those.
The matter will appear for order on April 7 when the DoE will have to inform the court the progress made in closing the non-compliant yards and operation.
The BELA petition was moved by former attorney general Fida M Kamal with assistance from S Rizwana Hasan, Bahreen Khan and Iqbal Kabir.
Meanwhile, SM Al Mamun, son of Awami League lawmaker Abul Kashem Master, destroyed 125 acres of Para forest in Sonaichhari, planted 18 years ago, to build a shipyard after the AL came to power.
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