Sunday, December 3, 2017

‘This is the world’s cheapest place to scrap ships’ – but in Chittagong, it’s people who pay the price. By John Vidal

Mohamed Edris’s life as he knew it in the Bangladeshi ship recycling yards ended at 11.30am on Saturday 11 April 2015. The 38-year-old metal cutter had been working with 100 others on the 19,600-tonne container ship Eurus London at the Ferdous Steel Corporation shipyard in Chittagong when catastrophe struck. His task had been to cut away the huge 40-tonne propeller with a blow torch. Alarm bells rang, he said, when he saw that a large metal platform had been placed below the propeller to stop it falling into the mud on the beach.

“I told the supervisor and two others that it was dangerous because it could bounce back when the propeller fell. I told them I could not do it, but they insisted that I did,” he said. He obeyed and nearly died. The propeller broke free, hit the metal plate and sprung back as he predicted. It sliced off his left leg below the knee, blinded him in one eye and nearly broke his back. I feel like a dead man. I have no hope. I will never be able to go back to work. I am in constant pain. The yard paid for his hospital treatment, gave him 125,000 Bangladeshi taka (£1,142) compensation and 460 Bdt (£4.32) a week for nine months. Now he, and the seven family members he supported, rely on handouts from friends. But in a legal test case Zodiac Maritime, the London-based shipping company that managed the Eurus London until it was sold for scrap, could be held responsible.

In a case that could see British, American and European shipowners and managers being made liable for the many deaths and accidents that take place every year in Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani shipbreaking yards, UK law firm Leigh Day is suing Zodiac for negligence on behalf of Edris. It claims that Zodiac, which manages about 150 large ships and is owned by Eyal Ofer, son of the late Israeli shipping magnate Sammy Ofer, should have known how dangerous the Chittagong breaking yards were when the vessel was sold for scrap to GMS, a US-based “cash buyer” or middle man.

“Zodiac knew, or ought to have known, that there was a foreseeable risk of physical harm to workers when they allowed their vessel to be sold to a Chittagong yard through a cash buyer,” says Martyn Day, a director of Leigh Day. New legal action is needed, say environmentalists and unions, because of the steady number of deaths and injuries to workers. On one level, shipbreaking is one of the world’s “greenest” industries, with every nut, bolt and sheet of metal on a ship being recycled. It also employs hundreds of thousands of people in some of the world’s poorest countries. But, say critics, owners knowingly cause suffering to workers by sending their ships to be recycled on Asian beaches. British-based companies have sent 28 ships to be beached in the past two years, including six to Chittagong. Two vessels waiting to be dismantled in that yard last week were managed by Zodiac.

“Shipowners shield themselves from responsibility through the use of cash buyers. These scrap dealers sell off the ships for the highest price offered,” says Ingvild Jenssen, director of Shipbreaking Platform, a Brussels-based coalition of environmental, human rights and labour groups. “All ships that end up on the beaches of Bangladesh, Pakistan or India pass through cash buyers, and all sales to cash buyers are clearly scrap deals where the higher price paid indicates that the vessel will be beached.”


More than 800 large ships are broken up each year, the vast majority on Asian beaches... read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/dec/02/chittagong-shipbreaking-yards-legal-fight