Toxic Trade News / 22 March 2009
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Save ship-breaking sector, cry jobless workers
Thousands Join Human Chain In Chittagong
by Staff Correspondent, Ctg, The Daily Star
  Thousand of jobless workers of ship-breaking yards in Sitakunda form a human chain on Dhaka-Chittagong highway yesterday demanding steps to save the sector.

Photo: The Daily Star
22 March 2009 – Thousands of workers of different ship-breaking yards yesterday formed a human chain on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway in Sitakunda demanding steps to save the sector now in limbo.

They sought the prime minister's immediate intervention saying 30,000 workers would be jobless in case the yards are shut down following a High Court order.

A High Court (HC) bench on March 17 directed the government to close operation of all ship-breaking yards that run without clearance from Department of Environment (DoE) within two weeks.

The order followed a writ filed by Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA) in September last year.

Meanwhile, two ruling party ministers spoke in favour of protecting the ship-breaking industry but said they must comply with the rules concerned.

Around 10 thousand workers from all the 36 ship breaking yards here joined the human chain stretching around 10 kilometre area from Bhatiari at Fouzderhat to Kumira. The three-hour long programme started at around 9:30am.

The workers carried placards and posters with various slogans urging the authorities to stop what they said foreign conspiracy to close the ship-breaking sector in order to save workers from being jobless.

They also chanted slogans against NGOs -- BELA and Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) -- blaming them for hatching plots as foreign agents.

Earlier, leaders of Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association in a meeting on Friday decided to appeal to the Supreme Court in this regard. Association General Secretary Abul Kashem said they would go to the higher courts if necessary.

He said, as the government never declared the ship-breaking sector as an industry it was difficult for them to get any clearance certificate from the environment department. “Around 400 re-rolling mills and steel mills and a number out-fitting furniture shops will be hit as they are directly dependent on the ship-breaking yards,” Kashem said.

An owner of a ship-breaking yard said at least 15 lakh tonnes of scrap is made in a year by breaking the ships imported from foreign countries.

The scrapped vessels are used for local consumption and the industry is playing a vital role in different sectors including industrialisation, construction and employment, said Siraj Dowla, owner of Pakhiza ship-breaking yard.

Meantime, Shipping Minister Afsarul Amin, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Hasan Mahmud and lawmaker from Sitakunda ABM Abul Kashem observed that ship-breaking is an old and big industry and livelihood of thousands of workers and their families depend solely on it.

The HC has given an order and we all must abide by its instruction. The present government is not against the ship-breaking industry but the owners of the yards must comply with rules including that on environment, they said while speaking at the launching ceremony of KDS Logistics Ltd, the country's largest off-dock Inland Container Depot (ICD) at Sonaichhari in Sitakunda Friday morning.

The ministers and the lawmaker said the industry should continue for the greater interest of the country's economy.

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