Establishing Sustainable Ship Breaking Industry in Bangladesh

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By Saaif Rasul

Shipbreaking refers to the process of ship recycling. It involves the dismantling of outdated vessels for further use. The ship-breaking concept is a vast idea because it requires huge manpower and logistic support. In Bangladesh, it is creating huge employment opportunities too. As a potential sector for Bangladesh, the industry is being administered and regulated through many national and international laws. The shipbreaking industry has dramatically expanded in Bangladesh at the cost of environmental degradation and severe labour exploitation.

Despite environmental and human rights violations, the shipbreaking industry represents a vital source of income for the country and a livelihood for a significant portion of its population. Shipbreaking activities in Bangladesh are concentrated in Sitakundo, just north of Chittagong city and near the Bay of Bengal. The Bangladesh shipbreaking industry accounts for around 30% of the activity worldwide. It is a critical contributor to the improvised country’s economy and Bangladesh relies on ship breaking for 80% of its steel needs. But along with the recyclable materials comes a lot of toxic junk and hazardous material such as asbestos.

The MARPOL Convention introduced a system for the prevention of marine pollution. Bangladesh is a party to the MARPOL convention. Bangladesh has accessed the convention but yet to ratify it. Each signatory nation is responsible for enacting domestic laws to implement the convention and effectively pledges to comply with the convention. According to Article 4 (1), any violation of the requirements of the present Convention shall be prohibited and sanctions shall be established therefore under the law of administration of the ship concerned wherever the violation occurs. Even Article 145 of UNCLOS 1982 says ‘necessary measures shall be taken in accordance with this convention with respect to activities in the area to ensure effective protection for the marine environment from harmful effects which may arise from such activities. It also says about the protection of the marine environment against the harmful effects of some activities like drilling, dredging, disposal of waste, construction, and other related activities. The convention has given the power to the state parties to protect their own marine environment. Basel Convention and Hong Kong Convention represent a systematic effort to balance the desire to shipbreaking wastes internationally with the desire to reduce the risks to health and the environment caused by the mismanagement of wastes. The shipbreaking States have the responsibility to confirm that ship recycling facilities are being conducted in accordance with the regulations of this convention.

On the other hand, for obtaining permission for beaching a ship, the recycler has to submit documents. It is a sustainable process of disposing of end-of-life vessels that can bring economic benefit and environmental welfare by providing employment opportunities and enabling ship recycling. The Hazardous Wastes and Ship Breaking Waste Management Rules, 2011 was passed under section 20 of the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 for managing hazardous wastes and shipbreaking waste. Many toxic materials are found in a dead ship while breaking. Such materials can be hazardous for the workers and the environment. Bangladesh has ratified many international legal instruments regarding ship-breaking activities. For implementing such instruments and protecting the marine environment, the parliament passed an act named “The Ship Recycling Act, 2018”.Section 4 of the Act mentioned the establishment of a zone for the ship recycling industry that specifies that whoever establishes any shipbreaking yard without permission of the government shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years or with a fine which may extend to ten to thirty lakh.

So, in order to fully comply with the obligations placed on Bangladesh by the international legal framework and for eradicating the negative impacts of the ship-breaking industry on the environment, existing environmental laws should be amended. Alternatively, separate legislation regulating the ship breaking industry should be adopted to address all the environmental, labor, and social aspects of the industry. Such a proposed legal framework should also clearly define the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders. Apart from this, Bangladesh should immediately develop a proper authorization and inspection system with the aim of ensuring proper management of hazardous materials, environmental conservation, and reporting procedures.

A fair balance between allowing emerging economies access to the new commodity of waste and preventing environmental degradation should be ensured. Owing to corporate social responsibility, the shipping companies should send their end-of-life ships only to facilities that comply with the technical guidelines of IMO, The Basel Convection, and the ILO. Ship-owners together with shipbuilders should try to commit to the development of clean and environmentally sustainable ships in order to avoid future disposal problems. Responsible management of end-of-life ships must include regulation at both international and national levels with due recognition of environmental, economic, and social implications of international trade of hazardous waste.

Saaif Rasul is a student of LLB program at Department of Law and Human Rights, University of Asia Pacific.