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The Problems With Ship Breaking In Bangladesh Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 4895 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Environmental degradation and depletion of resources are alarmingly increasing in developing countries due to lack effective legislations, non-compliance of international standards in ship breaking process. It is manifested mainly by pollution, deforestation, destruction of wetlands, depletion of soil nutrients, etc. In Bangladesh, both rapid population growth and a degraded environment create serious threats to the economic development. This leads to other serious problems such as poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy. Since the majority of people in Bangladesh derive their livelihoods from the use and extraction of all types of resources, the living condition in Bangladesh, especially of the poor, becomes extremely vulnerable to environmental damage [1] . The instant paper is directed to scan the relevant literatures on the impact of ship breaking in Bangladesh and also to put forward some proposals to be undertaken to this end.

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Super tankers and giant cargo ships are the backbone of our global consumer society. Hundreds of meters long, ferrying millions of tons of goods across the globe, the perpendicular size of these immense vessels is awe inspiring. Even when these ships are not seaworthy anymore, and repairs are not inexpensively viable, the raw material it is constructed from has a greater value for other purposes. Construction of one such behemoth is a fascinating feat of engineering, however, the destruction and final resting place of these steel giants is even more intriguing.

Ship breaking is the process that dismantles an obsolete vessel’s structure for scrapping or disposal. Conducted at a pier or dry dock or dismantling ship, it includes a wide range of activities, from removing all gears and equipment to cutting down the ship’s infrastructure (OSHA, 2001) [2] . Ship breaking although is demanding but a very risky process indeed. It involves pollution, environmental hazards, and health issues. Ship breaking was recognized as a highly mechanized task until the 1960s in the industrialized countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, but as the costs of upholding environmental health and safety standards increased the activity moved towards the poor Asiatic states from the early 1980s. The industry since then took a different approach where the ship owners to maximise profits sent their vessels to the scrap yards of poor South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan where payment, health and safety requirements are minimal and workers are desperate for work. Ship breaking activities in Bangladesh is concentrated on the port city Chittagong on the Bay of Bengal. Ship breaking activities are being practiced in the coastal areas and have gained importance in the macro and micro-economy of poverty stricken Bangladesh.

Rising demand of raw materials for re-rolling mills and other purposes has made ship breaking activity as one of the major character in the industrial revolution of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is dependant on its ship breaking industry for its domestic steel requirements, thus making it as one of the major resources for steel. This is why ship breaking industry is not subject to any environmental laws or health and safety regulations for workers in Bangladesh. Even though there is no such law regarding ship breaking and on top of that no one is even concerned about the environmental hazard which is leading the country to an outrageous environmental exposure. After the vessels end their navigability period, the owners send them to the shipyards in Chittagong to recover their valuable steel where about 95% of a vessel is recycled. However, these ships contain hazardous substances such as asbestos, lead paint and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB). During scrapping, by manual and basic methods, these toxic substances are released into the atmosphere. This phenomenon produces a strong and considerable contamination of the surrounding environment and lethal diseases into the workers. These activities exemplify both the potentialities and the dangers of an increasingly globalising economy. [3] 


Ships built before the 1980’s, contain many deadly materials. Ship breaking activities in Chittagong, Bangladesh pollute the soil, sea and rivers of the surrounding. Local fishing and agriculture as a livelihood are almost impossible over there due to the discharge of this toxic gases and oil pollution in the sea. This erosion of their traditional livelihoods drives more and more impoverished people to the dangerous shipyards. Samples taken from the yard shows contamination with high levels of mineral oil and toxic substances. Discharge of oil to the sea also results physical damage to the birds, mammals and marine organisms and their natural habitats. Wastes like blasting residue and paint chips contaminate the soil and surface water. Improper storage and disposal of scrap metals and wastes also causes lead contamination. Environmentally hazardous fumes evolve when metal and paint is heated during hot work. The pollution is both severe and long-standing. Unlike in Western countries where there are stringent regulations on hazardous substances and health and safety measure, in Chittagong yard rules and regulations are rarely applied. Laws on health and safety matters although exists but are hardly enforced and moreover even if the law becomes stringent due to corrupt politics the ship owners apply their powers to withdraw the law and orders. Following a High Court directive, the commerce ministry of Bangladesh incorporated a condition in its Import Policy Order 2009-2012, which said an exporter of a vessel had to submit a pre-cleaning certificate from the country of origin stating the ship was cleaned before exportation but then again the government amended the law allowing the Chittagong ship breaking industry to no longer require the documentation from the selling nations’ environmental authorities certifying vessels were free of toxic substances. [4]  The Basel convention and several other international treaties laid down rules and regulations which states that ships that are built with deadly toxic substances shall not be exported for recycling unless they are pre-cleaned and has undergone a cleaning test. But in Chittagong ship breaking yard the owners in violation of the law import those toxic vessels without pre-cleaning. As a result of this violation, terrible poisons and toxic gases are released into the environment playing havoc with the health of the people and all living creature in the ecosystem. The workers in Chittagong yard are permanently exposed to toxic substances. They breathe in these toxic fumes and asbestos dust. Not only on the job, but also in the sleeping quarters nearby they inhale these toxic gases. One out of four workers is expected to contract cancer due to workplace poisons. This makes the Chittagong ship breaking industry the most deadly in the world.


Aside from the health of the yard workers, in recent years, ship breaking has become an issue of major environmental concern. In addition to steel and other useful materials, however, ships contain many hazardous substances. Many ship breaking yards in developing nations have no proper enforceable environmental law, enabling large quantities of highly toxic materials to escape into the environment causing serious health problems amongst the labours in the ship breaking yard, the local population and wildlife. [5] The hazards are as follows:

Hazardous Substances

Asbestos fibres, dusts

PCBs & PVC (combustion products)

Heavy and toxic metals(lead, mercury, cadmium, copper, zinc etc.

Welding fumes

Organometallic substances (tributylin, etc.)

Volatile organic compounds (solvents)

Lack of hazard communication (storage, labelling, material safety data sheets)

Inhalation in confined and enclosed spaces

Batteries, fire-fighting liquids

Compressed gas cylinders

Physical Hazards



Extreme temperatures

Poor illumination

Biological Hazards

Toxic marine organisms

Animal bites

Risk of communicable diseases transmitted by pests, vermin, rodents, insects and other

animals that may infest the ship others)

Infectious diseases (TB, malaria, dengue

fever, hepatitis, respiratory infections, others)

Ergonomic and Psychological Hazards

Repetitive strain injuries, awkward postures,

repetitive and monotonous work, excessive


Mental stress, strained human relations (aggressive behaviour, alcohol and drug abuse, violence)


Most hazardous materials nowadays are restricted or banned today but a ship built about 30 years ago still contains these materials. It also carries hazardous and flammable chemicals used for painting, repair and maintenance, etc. Cables and electrical and other control systems contain hazardous material and emit hazardous gases, if burned. The paint coat, contaminated air, soil and water when torched or scraped, is hazardous for human and the environment. The protection of health and of the workers handling the hazardous waste is of crucial importance. [6] 

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP’s)

“POPs are chemicals that are highly toxic, remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, bio accumulate through the food web, accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human population, wildlife and the environment.” [7] This group of priority pollutants consists of pesticides such as DDT, industrial chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and unintentional by-products of industrial processes such as dioxins, furans and orgaotins. POPs are transported across international boundaries far from their sources no matter wherever they are used, even to regions where they have never been used or produced. Due to its emission the ecosystems particularly becomes risky because of the long-range environmental transportation and bio-magnification of these substances. Consequently, POPs pose a threat to the environment and to human health all over the globe. Exposure to POPs may cause acute, medium or long-term impacts. It also gives rise to cancer and other related diseases. Chittagong ship breaking industry is a prospective basis of these fatal chemicals of POPs.


Asbestos is the name given to a group of six different fibrous minerals (Amosite, Chrysotile,

Crocidolite, and the fibrous varieties of Tremolite, Actinolite, and Anthophyllite) that occurs naturally in the environment. All forms of asbestos are hazardous, and inhalation of these fibres can cause severe diseases. On the ship breaking beaches of Chittagong, asbestos fibres and flocks fly around in the open air and the labours over there take out asbestos insulation materials with their bare hands without any safety precautions. Workers who repeatedly breathe in asbestos fibres with lengths greater than or equal to 5μm may develop a slow build-up of a disease called asbestosis. a scar-like tissue in the lungs and in the membrane that surrounds the lungs. This is a serious disease and can eventually lead to disability or death in people exposed to high amounts of asbestos over a long period. Asbestos workers also have increased chances of getting lung cancer as well.

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Oil Pollution

Oil is a highly volatile compound composed of mainly hydrocarbon, sulphur containing compounds etc. Approximately 75% of the constituents of oil are hydrocarbons. As a result ship breaking, oil residues and the other refuses are being spilled and mixed with soil and water in the beach. In Chittagong yard the beach is black due to oil spills, and fishes have already started to disappear as per the researchers report. In freshwater environments, perhaps the most dangerous problem is contamination of drinking water sources. Food sources, such as fish and crustaceans both marine and fresh water, may be tainted and the consumption of tainted food causes human health problems and also loss for export trade in foreign market. Oil pollution also threatens the livelihoods of fisherman.

Impact of ship breaking on the surrounding environment and coastal community

Toxic oil and metallic substances through intake of affected fish, causes human health hazards. In ship breaking areas various refuse and disposable materials are discharged and spilled from scraped ships and it often gets mixed with the beach soil .The scrap from the ships is staked haphazardly on the sea shore, leaving behind an accumulation of metal fragments and rust in the soil. These together with extensive human and mechanical activities often go on as routine work for the scrapping of ships in that area as a result the beach soil loses its binding properties and this accelerate the rate and the amount of shore erosion and increase the turbidity of sea water of the surrounding area. Disruption of bio-diversity in the long run may also destroy the suitability of human settlement.

During the breaking period accidental death sometimes occurs. Due to lack of proper sanitation and drinking water workers suffer from water borne diseases. As the sound pollution is a regular phenomenon during dismantling, inhabitants of the adjacent areas live in a painful situation .The poor coastal community get a variety of employment opportunities in the industry and it turns into a way of livelihood to them. On the other hand social crime, abuse of drugs and illegal activities increases due to ship breaking activities in that area. As the commercially important species are replaced by low priced species and scarcity of fish, many coastal fishermen are leaving their hereditary profession and moving around everyday as environmental refugees in a state of under employment and poverty to unemployment and grim poverty.


The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) (1998)

PIC is internationally applied to the trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste. The Rotterdam Convention, subjects to the Prior Informed Consent procedure for 30 hazardous pesticides and 11 industrial chemicals such as chlordane, chlordimeform, chlorobenzilate, Asbestos, PBBs, PCBs etc. Most of these hazardous substances are present in ships that were built 20 to 30 years back. Countries lacking adequate infrastructure to monitor the import and use of such hazardous substances were in violence of the law.

In terms of ship breaking, owners have to make a declaration of hazardous substances on board, on arrival at the yard for dismantling. However, PIC by itself is not sufficient to stop unsafe scrapping. What is needed is that the country from which the toxic ship arrives needs to notify the importing country. The importing country can then take measures for the adequate treatment of these hazardous substances. But unfortunately in the case of Chittagong ship yard it is often seen that end of life vessels have been exported without the importing authorities being alerted.

The Basel Convention

Articles 4 and 6 of the Basel Convention impose strict conditions that go further than the PIC convention on the trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes. It imposes an obligation of ‘due diligence’, on all ship owners. All parties are required to provide information about a proposed trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes, to the countries concerned. Three elements must be proved for the violation of the Basel Convention to the issue of ship breaking: (i) Proof that the waste will not be properly dealt with by the ship breaking country. (ii) The legal recognition that ships are waste. (iii) An established ‘intention to discard’by the owner of the ship. [8] This convention is very much applicable to the Chittagong yard but unfortunately they are hardly followed by both importing and exporting parties of the yard. [9] 

United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)

UNEP is responsible for the implementation of the Basel Convention. It is currently drafting guidelines on the environmentally sound management for the full and partial dismantling of ships, in order to provide recommendations on procedures and practices to be implemented to attain Environmental Sound Management (ESM) in ship breaking yards.

International labour Organization (ILO)

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the UN specialized agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights. The guidelines suggest a national framework defining the general responsibilities and rights for employers, workers and regulatory authorities in ship breaking. In addition, the guidelines also provides recommendations on safe ship breaking operations including the management of hazardous substances, protection and preventative measures for workers against hazards and suggestions for a competency based training program. The ILO approach is to facilitate step-by-step improvements to the practice of dismantling ships on beaches. If these approaches are applied, the Chittagong ship breaking yard will reach a satisfactory quality. [10] The ILO guideline suggests the:

Ensuring there is an inventory of hazardous materials on board;

Decontamination and gas-freeing;

Planning for safe demolition;

Recycling and;

Safe waste management.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)

MARPOL is a combination of two treaties adopted in 1973 and 1978 respectively and updated by amendments through the years. It is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes. In the issue of ship breaking MARPOL would apply to the discharges that occur from ships sent for ship breaking, which take place within the territorial waters of the ship breaking country. Practically this means that once the ship is delivered to a ship breaking yard any discharge, notably of oil or oily mixtures will be prohibited under this convention. Such oily wastes must be retained on board or discharged to reception facilities in port. [11] 

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

In December 2003, the IMO issued a document entitled Guidelines on Ship Recycling. The Guideline is urbanized to give advice to all relevant stakeholders in the recycling process. The Guidelines suggest practical measures for all stages of the ship recycling process. They are:

• New ship and equipment design, in particular to minimize the use to hazardous substances and waste generation as well as to facilitate recycling and the removal of hazardous materials;

• Preparation of a Green Passport for new and existing ships;

• Selection of a recycling facility and preparation of a ship for recycling including a ship Recycling Plan and; 

• Roles for primary stakeholders including flag, port and recycling states, the Basel Convention, the ILO and the shipping industry.

The Guidelines seeks to give confidence to recycling as the best means of ship disposal. In general, the Guidelines take the view that the responsibility for environment and worker protection in ship recycling facilities must respite with the recycling feature itself and with the regulatory authorities of the country in which it operates. Nevertheless, it is noted that ship owners and other stakeholders also have a responsibility to address the issues involved.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS)

The aim of ICS is to encourage high standards of operation and the provision of high quality and efficient shipping services. It also strives for a regulatory environment which supports safe shipping operations, protection of the environment and adherence to internationally adopted standards and procedures regarding ship breaking. ICS also promotes properly considered international regulation of shipping and oppose unilateral and regional action by governments. ICS took the initiative to establish an “Industry Working Party on Ship Recycling” (IWPSR) on the 23rd of February 1999. The IWPSR established an Industry Code of Practice on ship recycling in August 2001. This Code of Practice is the basis for the IMO’s own guidelines. It is aimed at the ship owners, and encourages for the present shipping companies to initiate and complete a programme to identify and record, as far as is practicable, on each of their existing ships, any potentially hazardous material, as well as to make every effort to minimize the amount of potentially hazardous materials on board of the ship and while recycling of ships.

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

The Stockholm Convention (Article 3.2) restricts the import and export of POPs to cases where, for example, the purpose is environmentally sound disposal. It also requires that POPs may not be transported across international boundaries without taking into account relevant international rules, standards and guidelines (Article6.1). The Stockholm Convention requires Parties to take measures to reduce or eliminate releases of POPs from intentional production and use (Article 3), unintentional production (Article 5) and stockpiles and wastes (Article 6). Concepts of Best Available Techniques (BAT) and Best Environmental Practices (BEP) are to be further elaborated by the Conference of the Parties. Bangladesh being a signatory government of the convention must take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment in the Chittagong ship breaking yard. [12] 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The issue of human rights in ship breaking yards came to the attention of the international community in the 1990s through the concerted actions of different non-governmental organizations, above all Greenpeace, trade unions such as the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Metalworkers Federation, and intergovernmental bodies, such as the International Labour Organization. The awful working conditions and the dangers to the health and safety of the workers, publicized by several investigative media reports, led to a public outcry, which in turn generated an international mobilization on the issue. [13] 


Abide by the law

All the international treaties and the international UN bodies must together act against unacceptable ship breaking practices. The yard owners and the workers must have the appropriate knowledge regarding the law, health and safety issues and they also have to be encouraged to abide by the law as requires. The government must take reasonable steps to make the law obligatory to abide by on the ship breaking yards.

Stop dumping toxic ships

The shipping industry is responsible for its own vessels. They should take immediate measures to prevent pollution of the environment and protect the workers that dismantle their ships. They can do that by decontaminating and gas-freeing their ship-for-scrap before export to developing countries. [14] 

Gas Free Certificates

No ship recycling facility shall undertake any cutting or dismantling activity onboard a vessel until a ship has been tested for flammability and a Gas-Free for hot works certificate granted. This test must take place at the ship recycling facility just prior to any cutting or dismantling taking place.

Prevent pollution

The shipping industry is responsible for its own vessels. They should take immediate measures to prevent pollution of the environment and protect the workers that dismantle their ships. They can do that by decontaminating and degassing their ship-for-scrap before export to Asia.

Governments Role

The government of Bangladesh should formulate and implement a national policy and principles for safe and sustainable ship breaking after having consultation with relevant organizations, employers and workers. They should also include this sector under the ministry of industry defined by the Factory Act, 1965 and formulate a policy so that, worker’s rights and welfare; occupational safety & health (OHP) could be ensured and it could be eco-friendly as well.

Usage of Technological Renovation

Ship-owners should gradually make their vessels cleaner by the usage of better technology machineries during the recycling process. They should provide their workers with more and more safe and precautionary machineries that do not risk the workers life. During maintenance and survey stops, hazardous materials should be replaced with clean alternatives. In addition, ship-owners should, together with shipbuilders and classification societies, commit to the development of clean ships to avoid future disposal problems. [15] 


Though in Bangladesh, ship breaking is now considered as a formal industry by law but the activities in real are not at all formalized yet. There is no enforcement of the labour laws, no legal binding framework to ensure Bangladesh comply with international human rights and environmental commitments. Above all, there are no consolidated policies or strategies or guidelines in Bangladesh for ship dismantling and there is a serious lack of communication between the responsible Ministries.

According to several researchers the whole coastal area in Chittagong is in high risk by pollution generated from the ship breaking activities. Toxic chemicals and hazardous materials are not managed in an environmentally sound way; the beach is black due to oil spills, and fishes have started to disappear. Also the ship breaking activities has impact on the human health, directly to the workers; it has impacts on the food chain, on physiochemical properties of seawater, inter tidal sediments and soil and above all the on the biodiversity .

As Bangladesh is one of the largest countries in respect of ship breaking activities, the subsequent impact on the environment and violation of human rights in the ship breaking yards drew the attention of different concerned bodies around the world as well as within Bangladesh in recent years. If the ship breaking industry is to bring development in the country, the same shall also be applied to ensure minimization of pollution effect. A longer stretch along the seashore is in no way justified for continuation of this business. Rather a certain separate zone like a dockyard should be selected by the competent authority to be undertaken at the right time, before it is too late. Considering the vital role of ship breaking in national economy ship breaking can not be stopped. Rather a sustainable approach should be taken to minimize the negative consequences of ship breaking activities in our coastal zone.


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