After the ship breaking yard in Bangladesh’s port city Chittagong’s Sitakunda region, the country is all set to see yet another ship breaking yard near the Sundarban Forest (a world heritage site). According to Bangladeshi law and the UN Convention of RAMSA, no heavy industry or structure can be built within the radius of 10 Kilometers surrounding the Sundarbans, however the proposed 52.24 Acres of land on the Gab’baria Coast of the Patharghata region in Barguna district of Bangladesh is just within a 6 Kilometer radius of the Sundarbans Forest.
The ship breaking industry that developed along the coastal areas of Sitakunda thana (administrative region) stretching from Fouzderhat to Barabkunda is posing a serious threat to environment of both human and animal habitation along with ecosystem in the sea already.
During the scrapping of old ships, different types of poisonous chemicals including oil used in the ships are spread in the yards. Spill-over of these poisonous chemicals and oils on the sea near the coast is causing severe environmental pollution.
One survey conducted by the students of the Institute of Marine Science of Chittagong University recently revealed that the soil of the locality contains heavy element of chemicals. It contains 0.5 to 2.7 ppm of mercury, 0.5 to 21.8 ppm of lead, 220 ppm of chromium, 0.3 to 2.9 ppm cadmium, 2.6 to 5.6 ppm of iron, 5.2 to 23.2 ppm of calcium and 6.5 to 10.57 ppm of magnesium. For this reason the ecosystem of the coastal areas is being severely affected.
The major environmental concern relates to lack of containment facilities to prevent pollutants from entering water, ground and air in addition to the direct exposure of workers.
Apart from the venomous effect these chemicals have on the workers, the task of ship breaking in itself is a major cause of death of ordinary workers. More than 90 workers died in a span of 7 years till 2012 , and these are only the reported deaths. The number of qualified ship breakers and safe facilities are less in Bangladesh, and the rights of workers are often left at bay.
As per a leading Bengali news broadsheet (The Prothom Alo, 21 July 2013, p1), the Industry Ministry already have finalized the construction of this new ship breaking yard and its initial work has started. In face of strong criticism and warnings by the Forest Department, the Industry Minister promised to construct a more environmentally friendly ship breaking yard in the near future.
As per the UN Vessel Convention, if any country is to import a sea vessel then the exporting country must clear the vessel of toxic substances. However, this convention is not followed and old vessels brought for their scrap metals contain toxic chemicals and waste which are spilled in the Bay of Bengal or other areas of Bangladesh. Moreover, according to the European Union the old and retired ships (which are mostly filled with toxic chemicals and waste) must be removed from within the territory of the member nations within the year 2015, and it has also been mentioned in one of the European Commission Publication that most of such ships will head towards Bangladesh. A very grave prospect if urgent decisions are not taken to make ship breaking safer for the workers and friendly towards the environment of this tropical country.
There are more than 60 species of animals, most of them endangered, exist in the Sundarban Mangroove Forest, and among them the near extinct Royal Bengal Tigers of the Sundarban survives. If the ship breaking yard is finally built without keeping the concerns of environmentalists and conservationists in relevance, the fate of the Sundarbans will meet that of the poor workers who die unnoticed and uncared for.