Bangladesh: Shipyard Workers Face Har...
By zakir hossain chowdhury
29 Dec 2014

Shipyard workers near the Buriganga River in Dhaka face difficult work conditions. According to witnesses, many workers died in accidents related to explosions. The death toll from 2012 to 2014 at ship recycling yards stands at 44, leaving dozens of ship-breaking workers wounded.

Workers break down the rusty, old supertankers, cargo ships and cruisers that are no longer in use to reuse their steel and parts in new ships. There are more than 35 shipyards in Old Dhakas Keraniganj area in the bank of the river Burigonga, where small ships, launches and steamers are built and repaired around the clock.

Ashraful, a 17 year-old worker, has seen several of his colleagues fall victim to explosions, caused by ruptures in gas cylinders. “Our conditions are very bad. Most of us live by eating rice and vegetables. I cannot remember the last time I ate meat.”

About 15,000 people work in extremely dangerous conditions and earn between $4 and $5 as they don't get safety gear from the dock owners and accidents are common. Shipyard workers say make very meager earnings, without proper safety, and surrounded by the smell of asbestos.

Jamal Uddin, 32, has worked in the shipyard since 2012. He is a father of two and lives in his home-district Ranngpur. "I work in this place on a daily basis. There are no days off or holidays, so I can't go visit my family regularly. If I want, I can visit my house once a year for one week but without payment."

Most of the private shipyards use plate-steel, engines, components and machinery from old merchant ships, collected from many ship recycling industries located in Bangladesh. However, frequent accidents and heavy human causalities on inland vessels often raise questions about the quality of ships produced in local shipyards.

A primary school is situated near this yard, and children make their way to their classes using a dangerous path inside the shipyard, some of them using it as a playground, though a dangerous one. Other children, mostly climate refugees from flooded areas of the country, work there collecting scrap metal and used oil to sell in local markets.

Bangladesh is now exporting small and medium-sized ships for the highly competitive European market, building vessels for countries including Denmark, Germany and Finland. Bengali shipbuilding is being compared with giants such as China, Japan and South Korea.