WHAT IS THE ISSUE?
Dirty and dangerous shipbreaking practices in Bangladesh have been strongly criticised both by international and local NGOs for many years. Severe pollution to the marine environment, hazardous waste dumping, appalling working conditions causing many severe and fatal accidents, as well as the illegal exploitation of child workers are amongst the main concerns. Shipbreaking first grew into an industry in Bangladesh in the 1980s; however, it was not officially recognised – and thus not regulated – until 2011. In 2009, a land-mark decision by the Supreme Court ordered the closure of the shipbreaking industry in Chittagong as none of yards held the necessary environmental clearance to operate. The yards re-opened based on false certifications and this is currently still being contested in the Courts.
Despite laws existing in Bangladesh to protect both workers and the environment, these are poorly implemented due to lack of resources, such as a lack of labour inspectors, or are deliberately ignored as a result of industry pressure.
End-of-life vessels are imported with fake certificates claiming that they are free of hazardous materials, which consequently are not properly detected or safely removed and disposed of. The World Bank has estimated that between 2010 and 2030 Bangladesh will have imported 79.000 tons of asbestos; 240.000 tons of PCBs and 69.200 tons of toxic paints that originate from end-of-life ships. The Chittagong area remains void of storage and treatment facilities for hazardous wastes and hazardous materials are, as a result, simply dumped or re-sold.
Workers live in unsanitary and improper accommodation. They work long hours without holidays and usually do not have work contracts. Trade unions are prevented from effectively organizing the workers. In 2017, the Platform documented the stories of at least 15 workers who were killed and at least 22 who suffered severe injuries. The main causes of death are suffocation, fires, falls from great height or workers crushed by falling parts of the ship. The closest specialised hospital is too far for emergencies and the injured workers in many cases do not automatically receive financial support for necessary medical treatment. The hospital building set up by the Bangladesh Shipbreakers Association is operated as a private clinic and can only treat minor injuries.
WHAT HAVE WE DONE?
COPENSATION CLAIM RESOLVED
The Platform worked with the UK law firm Leigh Day to help a Bangladeshi shipbreaking worker claim compensation from London-based Zodiac Maritime for having suffered severe injuries while cutting one of Zodiac’s ships. The case, which was covered in The Guardian, created quite a stir in the shipping industry as it was the first time that a South Asian worker sought to hold a ship owner accountable. In December, the case was resolved through a settlement to the satisfaction of the worker.
This case has allowed a shipbreaking worker to access justice in an unprecedented way, and indicates the opportunities that may exist for other claims to be brought against shipping companies in the future.
SUPPORT FOR SHIPBREAKING WORKERS
The Platform’s member organisations in Bangladesh provide support to shipbreaking workers, including legal aid and support for families of dead workers or for compensation claims, basic health services and trainings, as well as informal information sessions. Present with field staff in the shipbreaking area, our members are able to monitor the situation and helped workers to organize protests to demand safer working conditions.
NORTH SEA PRODUCER CASE
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), the Platform member organisation that has been fighting in the courts against the shipbreaking industry’s violation of national law since 2003, submitted a new petition on the illegal import of the Maersk-Odebrecht owned FPSO North Sea Producer. Following an alert issued by the Platform, the UK Environment Agency appointed an investigator to look into the illegal export of the ship from the UK to Bangladesh. The Platform has been providing the UK authorities and the Bangladesh High Court with information on the illegal sale of the ship, involving also the cash buyer GMS, the largest trafficker in end-of-life ships to the South Asian beaches. Whilst Maersk claimed that they had sold the FPSO for further operational use, they were finally forced to admit that they sold the ship to a shell-company set up by GMS. At this point, there should be sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the export from the UK was illegal, and so authorities should proceed with pressing criminal charges for breach of the EU Waste Shipment Regulation.
While investigations have been taking place in the UK, the breaking of the North Sea Producer was halted in Bangladesh with the judicial intervention of BELA. Inspections on the content of hazardous materials were carried out and resulted in a report by the Bangladesh Atomic Agency; according to the report, further surveys were needed due to the presence of radioactive material on the FPSO. BELA subsequently succeeded in getting an injunction on the breaking of the North Sea Producer and is now waiting for the judgement of the High Court, which is expected before the summer 2018. The case will be followed up on both sides by the Platform.