Ship Breaking? What is that? It is the most dangerous job in the world according to many. In Bangladesh it is big time big business. Big Business which pays its workers as little as 47 cents per day to break up huge, rusting ships and tankers for up to twelve hours per day, seven days per week. Ship Breaking in Bangladesh is second only in size to Pakistan. Ship breaking as Australia's Sunday Night describes it:
It’s one of the most jaw-dropping sights of the modern world. For as far as the eye can see, along a stretch of coastline in Bangladesh, hundreds of mammoth supertankers lie beached on the sand.
This is the place where the world’s ships come to die. The country’s lax labor laws and poor environmental standards mean the Bangladeshi coast is the final dumping ground for these lumbering giants.
A 2010 investigative report from the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights found that amongst the thirty thousand workers involved in this most perilous and grueling work are children. The report found that on the average one worker is injured each day and one dies every three weeks.
Workers are exposed to numerous toxins without any protection. Each ship contains an average of 15,000 pounds of asbestos and 10 to 100 tons of lead paint. Workers also come in contact with mercury, arsenic, dioxins, PCBs and carcinogenic fumes. Helpers, often children who go barefoot or wear flip-flops, use hammers to break apart the asbestos inside the ships, which they carry out and dump on the sand.
The ship-breaking workers lack even the most rudimentary protective gear. Cutters, who use blowtorches to sever ship hulls, wear sunglasses rather than protective goggles. They wrap dirty bandanas around their noses and mouths since they are not given respiratory masks. And they wear two sets of shirts for lack of welding vests and hope that the sparks will not burn through to their skin. Still, it happens every day.
The workers live in misery, with six sharing a small room, often sleeping directly on the dirty concrete floor. No one has a mattress.
“The workers are very clear on two points,” Kernaghan said, “that they will die early, and that there have been no improvements whatsoever over the last 30 years with respect to worker rights or health and safety. It does not have to be this way! Every child worker could be sent to school for $750 a year—including a living stipend to replace their wages. For less than $350 a year, every worker could be provided safety gear—which would save lives. The G-20 nations, which dominate world shipping, must guarantee respect for the legal rights of workers and must remove all toxic materials from their ships before they are sent to Bangladesh for scrapping.”
Again, this is big business. Of the approximate 45,000 ocean-going ships in the world about 700 are taken out of service every year. At the end of their sailing life, ships are sold so that the valuable steel – about 95% of a ships mass can be reused. Research Initiative for Social Equity writes:
Ship breaking on the beach, which already at that time was prohibited in most countries, could be done in Bangladesh without any concern. Poverty and millions of people without education were looking for livelihood opportunities. They provided cheap and exploitable human man power needed for the ship breaking industry. No major investments were required for engaging in ship breaking. The present type of ship breaking in Bangladesh just require a large winch, some blowtorches and maybe a bulldozer. Rest of the operation is just raw human man power. Labour is extremely cheap, environmental and labour standards are loosely applied and no pre-cleaning of the ships are required for entering the ship breaking beach in Chittagong.
Ship breaking is therefore a lucrative business with few risks for the yard owners, investors and money lenders. The ship breaking industry in Bangladesh is estimated worth an annual turn over of around 1.5 billion dollars. Globally some 700 ocean-going vessels are scrapped each year, and more than 100 of them are scrapped in Bangladesh. Some of the ships are 350 meter long with a weight up to 10-15.000 tons. It is estimated that app. 30 percent of the world’s Light Displacement Tonnes (LDT) were scrapped in Bangladesh during the period 2000-2010.
It was found that majority of the labour (40.75%) are between the ages of 18-22 years old. Only 1.13% of labour is between 46-60 years old. One of the most disturbing findings was that child labour (under the age of 18) made up 10.94% of the workforce. 46.42% of yard workers are illiterate while 43.02% attained primary school education. There are no arrangements for pure drinking water, healthy food, hygienic toilets and living conditions for the workers. It was observed that 86.44% of the labour force stated that they received no medical facilities from the ship yard owners, 5.93% said they received medical facilities, 4.15% said they got medical facilities but in a nominal way or by way of first aid treatment and 1.69% stated sometimes they got medical facilities and sometimes not. As the government has not recognised it as an industry, the industry based labour laws (for example the Factory Act 1965) do not apply. Though the workers have been working in the scrap yards for years they are not allowed to form or join a trade union to bargain and enforce their rights. The workers are deprived of proper compensation due to the lack of a valid contract. In order to maximize profits little is done to minimalize the risk of accidents (Source: YPSA’s baseline survey).
Working in the ship breaking yards is a very dangerous job, which involves many human health risks. Sometimes gases explode killing workers. It also happens that workers are crushed by tumbling or falling steel parts. Sometimes workers fall from the high sides of ships on which they are working without safety harnesses. Many of the oxyacetylene cutters work without goggles. Few wear shoes, let alone protective clothing. Local organisations in Bangladesh estimate that some 1000-2000 workers have died in the last 30 years, and many more have suffered serious injuries. General health statistics show that the percentage of people with disabilities in the Chittagong area is above average for the country as a whole, because many workers have lost limbs or got other disabilities from working in the ship breaking yards.
The labourers lack basic equipment. When a new ship arrives, there are containers, chambers and tanks, which contain oil, petroleum and poisonous gases. One method used for checking the level of danger in these parts of the ship is to lower down chickens in a string to check whether there are dangerous gases. If the chickens survive, the first workers will enter to clean for oil, petroleum and other flammable substances. The flammable substances are often burned off before the cutters enter to rip the ship apart. Gas explosions is a common phenomenon.
It is estimated that half of the workers are under 22 years and nearly half of them are illiterate. Some believe that up to around 20 percent of the total work force consist of children. The workers are poor and they have no other alternatives for supporting themselves and their families than to work in the ship breaking yards. There are often no other job alternatives for them. The workers do not know much about rules and regulations on basic occupational health standards and safety. The labourers or their families are poorly compensated when injured or killed.
Are you getting the picture.
This is not a job you want. This is a job you have no choice but to take. This is a job of the Empire.
This ships that are being broken up by poor workers in South Asia, of course, come from other, more developed parts of the Empire...places like Europe. The technology and the like obviously exist in Europe for Europe to take care of its own shit, but it is much more profitable to drop them off on the beaches of places like Bangladesh...so that is where they go.
The government of Bangladesh does next to nothing to protect these workers. The governments of Europe turn their eyes in the other direction and act as if they have no responsibility. The masters of global capital could care less. The safety, the lives of workers is not their concern.
It's a global world we live in.
The following if from NGO Shipbreaking Platform.