At least 15 workers were killed and more than a hundred injured in accidents at different shipbreaking yards in Chittagong this year with the latest incident occurring on Monday that claimed another life.
The latest victim, Md Manik, 35, was killed as he was hit by a crane on the head at SNT Shipbreaking Yard in Lalbegh area of Sitakunda upazila, said Assistant Sub-Inspector Alauddin Talukder of Chittagong Medical College Hospital Police Camp.
Experts say the risk of accidents in the yards increases due to some specific reasons including untrained workers, unsafe storage and disposal of toxic wastes in the ships and working without personal protection equipment (PPE).
Mohammad Ali Shahin, Bangladesh Coordinator of Brussels-based NGO Shipbreaking Platform, said workers are neither trained up properly nor provided with the PPE.
He added toxic materials of the tanks of ships are not properly cleaned before beaching in yards that poses a threat to explosion.
“At least 15 workers were killed and more than a hundred injured in shipbreaking yards this year,” he said, adding that at least 159 workers were killed in between 2005 and 2016.
During a recent visit to a number of shipbreaking yards, this correspondent found workers working without any safety gear. Some were seen cutting the plates through welding without wearing eyeglasses and masks.
Mohammad Idris, a shipbreaking worker, lost the lower portion of his left leg in an accident at a shipbreaking yard on April 11, 2015.
He said the owners did not provide them with PPE. “The owners provide safety gears to the workers only the day when the inspection team from the Department of Environment visits the yard,” he added.
Abu Taher, president of Bangladesh Shipbreakers Association, however, claimed the owners provide the PPE, but the workers do not use those as they do not feel comfortable.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers’ Association (BELA), said the only way to stop the accidents is mechanising the entire procedure.
“Workers don’t break ships in the developed countries. It’s done by machines,” she said, adding, “Using PPE can only save workers from minor accidents. It cannot save them from fatal ones.”