Shipbreaking Industry Workers Reel Under COVID19 Effect!



The Shipbreaking Platform has been updating the difficulties faced by workers in the shipbuilding industry.  Here is an excerpt that highlights the sufferings, pain, lack of healthy work atmosphere and the economic as well as moral support required for the workers during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers largely affected – 4 dead and 7 injured

A total of 166 ships were broken in the first quarter of 2020. Of these, 126 ships were sold to the beaches of South Asia for dirty and dangerous breaking.  

From January to March, nearly 4 workers lost their lives while 7 of them were severely injured when breaking ships in Bangladesh. 

A detailed description of the affected workers

February 3 – A worker aged 27 was hit by a falling iron plate on his right leg at a shipbreaking yard in Bangladesh. Now he is pathetically lying in his bed at home with an open wound at high risk of infection. 

February 4 – A 28 yr old cutter man died at another shipbreaking yard in Bangladesh.  A week later, a 22 yr old worker fell from great height whilst dismantling a vessel at another yard. He died on the spot and had only started to work as a shipbreaker only four days prior his death. 

March 24 –  Two brothers, one at age of 45 and the other at 48 yrs died after breathing atoxic gas, while at work in the engine room of a tanker.  Both the workers leave five children behind. In the same accident, two other workers, were also exposed to the toxic gas and fell sick. The Department of Inspection for Factories Establishments (DIFE) stated to local media that the accident will be investigated.  

Accident reports in India and Pakistan

Reports on accidents that take place in Ship breaking industry in India and Pakistan are difficult to obtain. A recent BBC report explicitly reveals how companies involved and Indian local authorities, seek to thwart public scrutiny of the deplorable conditions in the ship breaking industry. 

The reports given by journalists who visited Indian shipbreaking yards, often unannounced and undercover, have documented a reality that starkly contrasts with the industry efforts to greenwash the beaching of vessels for breaking. 

Difficulties faced by the workers

  • Workers risk their lives due to lack of infrastructure and dangerous conditions. 
  • They are furthermore not provided adequate respiratory protective gear. 
  • And thus exposed to hazardous materials and gases that impair their health, causing cancer and other respiratory diseases.

The death toll caused by occupational diseases contracted at the beaching yards is not disclosed in either India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, and is sadly likely to be shockingly high.

A glimpse into the industry and how it works

In the first quarter of 2020,Saudi Arabian ship owners sold the most ships to South Asian yards, followed by South Korean and Greek owners. 

Shipping company Berge Bulk sent five vessels to Bangladesh for dirty and dangerous breaking.. These add up to the four ships that the ship owner sold to the same beach last year. Berge Bulk’s scrapping practices should prompt the Lloyd’s List Asia Awards to withdraw the prize for “Excellence in Environmental Management” the company recently received for its commitment to environmental conservation. Indeed, there is nothing laudable about putting workers lives at serious risk and polluting sensitive coastal environments.

Almost half of the ships sold to South Asia this quarter changed flag to the registries of Comoros, Gabon, Palau and St. Kitts and Nevis just weeks before hitting the beach. These flags are not typically used during the operational life of ships and offer ‘last voyage registration’ discounts. They are particularly popular with the middlemen that purchase vessels cash from ship owners, and are grey- and black-listed shipping registries due to their poor implementation of international maritime law. 

The high number of flag changes at end-of-life seriously compromises the effectiveness of legislation based on flag state jurisdiction only, such as the European Union (EU) Ship Recycling Regulation. The Platform recorded at least six ships that de-registered from an European flag registry prior the last voyage to South Asia in order to circumvent EU legislation. 

Covid-19 and its impact on vulnerable shipbreaking workers

The current Covid-19 pandemic is also affecting the South Asian shipbreaking workers. Authorities have halted imports of vessels and imposed strict lockdowns.

As reported by the newspaper The Indian Express, migrant workers in Alang, unable to return to their home villages, are facing serious financial difficulties. They are yet to receive their March salaries and have not received any alternative support, such as food, from their employers. Fortunately, media report that the Gujarat government has now stepped in and distributed thousands of ration kits to the migrant workforce stuck in Alang.

In Pakistan, more than 400 food bags were handed out to the National Trade Union Federation Pakistan and the Shipbreaking workers Union at Gadani shipbreaking yard.

In Bangladesh, according to the Platform’s member organisation YPSA, only local workers are partially receiving food support from the government and from some yard owners. Migrant workers, on the other hand, have not received any public support. YPSA and OSHE, another Platform member organisation active in the Chattogram area, are currently providing assistance to part of the migrant workforce. There is a dire need to secure emergency food assistance, as well as medical check-ups and awareness raising to avoid the spread of Covid-19.

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Source: Shipbreaking Platform




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