Human Rights Watch says companies abandon old ships for scrap in unsafe conditions, killing workers who dismantle them.
European shipping companies are abandoning their old ships for scrap on the beaches of Bangladesh in dangerous and polluting conditions that have cost the lives of workers dismantling them, according to Human Rights Watch.
The beaches of Sitakunda in southeastern Bangladesh have become one of the world’s largest shipbreaking yards, fueling the South Asian country’s booming construction industry and its need for sources of cheap steel.
European companies are among shipping companies to have sent 520 ships to the site since 2020, where thousands of workers dismantle ships without protective equipment.
“Companies that break up ships in Bangladesh’s dangerous and polluting yards are making profits at the expense of Bangladeshi lives and the environment,” HRW researcher Julia Bleckner said Thursday.
“Shipping companies should stop exploiting loopholes in international regulations and take responsibility for the safe and responsible management of their waste. »
Workers told HRW they used their socks as gloves to avoid burns when cutting molten steel, covered their mouths with shirts to avoid inhaling toxic fumes, and they carried pieces of steel barefoot.
“Workers described injuries caused by falling pieces of steel or being trapped inside a ship when it caught fire or pipes exploded,” HRW said in its report, published jointly with the Belgian NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
At least 62 workers have been killed in accidents at Sitakunda shipbreaking yards since 2019, Bangladeshi environmental group Young Power in Social Action said.
Two workers died last week in separate incidents after falling from a partially dismantled ship, police told the AFP news agency.
The Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association (BSBA), which represents shipyard owners, said its members have taken steps to improve safety ahead of the new international convention on safe and environmentally sound demolition, which is due to come into force in 2025 .
“We are transforming our shipbreaking yards into green yards even if it is expensive,” BSBA president Mohammad Abu Taher told AFP. “We are working on it. We are providing protective equipment to workers.
But Fazlul Kabir Mintu, coordinator of the Danish-funded Information Center for Safety and Security at Work, said construction site owners were operating in a “climate of impunity” because of their outsized influence on politics. local.
“There is little or no attention to worker safety on dozens of construction sites,” he told AFP.
Many ships sent to Sitakunda contained asbestos, said Repon Chowdhury, executive director of the OSHE Foundation which works with shipbreaking workers.
Asbestos is linked to lung cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, but Chowdhury told AFP workers were forced to mop it up with their bare hands.
He added that his organization studied the exposure of 110 shipbreaking workers to the toxic substance, concluding that 33 of them tested positive.
“All 33 workers suffered varying degrees of lung damage,” he said. “Among the victims, three died, while others live in poverty.”