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Bangladesh High Court Halts Deadly Shipbreaking on its Beaches

Written By mediavigil on Thursday, March 19, 2009 | 10:55 PM

+88 02 8612957, bela@bangla.net+1 206.652.5555 jpuckett@ban.org+32 2 6094 419 / +32 485 190 920,ingvild@shipbreakingplatform.orgVictory for Safe Jobs and the Environment

Dhaka, 18 March 2009: As a result of a petition filed by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), the Bangladeshi High Court has directed the Department of Environment (DoE) to ensure that all shipbreaking yards operating without environmental clearance close their operations within two weeks. None of the 36 shipbreaking yards in Chittagong currently have an environmental clearance. The decision effectively shuts down an industry that has been highly criticized by environmentalists and human rights activists for operating with complete disregard for the law, human health and the environment for many years. The court also ordered that no ship listed on the “Greenpeace list” of dangerous ships can be allowed into the country. BELA and Greenpeace are member organizations of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, a global coalition working to promote safe and environmentally sound ship recycling.

The Court further ordered that no end-of-life vessel shall be imported by Bangladeshi shipbreakers without having been pre-cleaned of hazardous materials such as asbestos, PCBs, heavy metals and oily sludges before arriving in Bangladesh. This “pre-cleaning” requirement is in accord with Bangladesh’s national toxic waste import ban as well as its responsibilities as a Party to the Basel Convention -- a UN treaty which decided in 1995 to ban the export of toxic wastes to developing countries for any reason. Pre-cleaning has been one of the demands of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking in order to avoid developing countries receiving a deadly and disproportionate burden of toxic ship waste from the global shipping industry.

“This decision to finally enforce existing international and Bangladeshi law on this very dangerous and damaging industry is long overdue,” said Rizwana Hassan of BELA. “There are ways to import and recycle steel without having to accept the gross pollution of our fragile coastal zone, nor the exploitation and extremely dangerous working conditions that have killed so many of our young men,” said Rizwana Hassan from BELA.

The Court decision was based on a startling report submitted by the Department of Environment (DoE) on 11 December 2008 which revealed that none of the 36 shipbreaking yards operating on the beaches near Chittagong, Bangladesh, have the required environmental clearance. The Court stated that it was appalled to learn that the Department of Shipping has illegally facilitated the import of toxic ships and has directed the Ministry of Environment to frame, within three months, necessary rules on ship breaking based on the obligations of Bangladesh under the Basel Convention, the Environment Conservation Act and the Environment Conservation Rules. It also called for the formation of a committee to monitor the implementation process.

Currently minimum age requirements, trade union rights and safety regulations are completely disregarded on the yards. New rules for shipbreaking must take into account the International Labour Organisation Conventions ratified by Bangladesh which to date are ignored.

The decision comes just a few months before the adoption of a new Convention on Ship Recycling negotiated by the International Maritime Organization that has been roundly criticized for doing far too little to prevent toxic ship scrapping on South Asian beaches.

“This ruling sends an unmistakable signal that Bangladesh will no longer compromise the welfare of its poorest workers, nor its environment for the sake of narrow industrial interests that refuse to recognize that it is impossible to safely dismantle ships containing toxic wastes on a tidal beach,” said Jim Puckett, Coordinator of the Basel Action Network, a Basel Convention watchdog group and member organization of the NGO Platform. “It is indeed time for the rest of the world and in particular the International Maritime Organization to similarly draw a line in the sand demand an end to the dumping of toxic ships on the beaches of the poorest countries of the world,” he said.

For more information:
Rizwana Hassan of BELA, for legal situation in Bangladesh: +88 02 8612957, bela@bangla.net
Jim Puckett, Basel Action Network, in Seattle: +1 206.652.5555 jpuckett@ban.org
Ingvild Jennsen of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking: +32 2 6094 419 / +32 485 190 920,ingvild@shipbreakingplatform.org
(Photographs by: Mohammad Ali)

Environmental compliance is the key

WE applaud the recent High Court directive to the government to immediately shutter operations of all the nation's 36 ship-breaking yards for operating without proper environmental clearance, and hope that the industry will at long last finally take corrective measures and bring itself into compliance with the law of the land.

This court order is long overdue. Simply put, the industry has been operating in blatant defiance of the most basic environmental regulations that are on the books. The court has done nothing more than order compliance with the existing law, and no one can have any complaint if laws are implemented as they should be.

The way the industry is run is highly dangerous and polluting one and one that is linked to all kinds of abuses. Nevertheless, mindful of the fact that the metal salvaged from ship-breaking is key to our own steel industry, and that ship-breaking provides foreign exchange and jobs, we want the industry to be saved from wrongful exploitation leading to its ruination.

If ship-breaking continues in Bangladesh it must be done under stringent conditions and with close regulatory oversight against abuse and environmental damage.

Many argue that we need to be even more vigilant and that the laws need to be even more stringent than they are today. But what is incontrovertible and unacceptable is that even the minimal existing environmental regulations have been contemptuously ignored by every single one of the 36 ship-breaking yards operating in the country.

Industries that provide profits and jobs at the expense of the environment ultimately do more harm than good. The decision to enforce the law to save ourselves from the toxic effects of non-compliance is a good one. Let us now hope that the court order is respected and that in future all environmental regulations in this industry are followed to the letter.

19 March, 2009

The Daily Star

Ship-breaking ordered shut

18 March, 2009

HC gives 2 weeks for closure as none of 36 yards has environmental clearance; asks govt to ensure no toxic ship enters territory.

The High Court has directed the government to close in two weeks operation of all ship-breaking yards for running without environmental clearance.

None of the existing 36 ship-breaking yards, which are identified as category Red [extremely dangerous], has taken or applied for environmental clearance from the government, reveals a report submitted to the court by the Department of Environment.

The HC considering the country's environmental degradation also ordered that no ship would enter Bangladesh territory for breaking without cleaning its hazardous materials at source or outside the territory.

The HC bench of Justice Md Iman Ali and Justice Sheikh Abdul Awal gave the directives following a writ filed by Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA).

The court also clearly imposed a bar on any Greenpeace listed toxic ship's entry into the waters of Bangladesh.

The court ordered the DoE to implement the directives within two weeks from receiving the order and directed the government to form a committee to monitor the implementation process.

As per the HC order, no ship-breaking operation will take place from now on without environmental clearance. The government has to ensure that ships are broken after safe working condition for the workers is guaranteed and shipyards have appropriate disposal arrangements for hazardous waste and protection of environment.

The Court expressing utter dismay has observed that none of the ministries has cooperated to ensure compliance with the environmental laws. Besides, the Department of Shipping has always taken interest in importing more and more ships ignoring public interest, workers' welfare and environmental protection, the court observed.

The court also directed the ministry of Environment and Forest to frame within three months necessary rules on ship-breaking relying on the obligations of Bangladesh under the Basel Convention, 1989, the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 and the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997.

The ministry has been ordered to inform the court after three months the status of framing of the rules.

Some 30,000 workers are engaged in ship scrapping in Chittagong's Sitakunda, which houses the world's second largest ship-breaking industry after China. At least 250,000 people in the country live off the industry directly and indirectly, according to experts.

Last year 84 vessels were scrapped in Sitakunda. Scrapping a ship takes one month to one and a half months depending on its size.

According to an International Labour Organisation report, 551 minor and 42 major accidents took place in the country's 36 ship-breaking outfits from 1996 to 1998.

The recent report of a survey conducted by two internationally reputed organisations, Greenpeace and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), says on average at least one worker is injured a day and one dies a week.

The report styled "The Human Cost of Breaking Ships" published last December simultaneously from Bangladesh, India and Switzerland says at least 1,000 workers died in the last 20 years in Bangladesh's ship-breaking yards. The figures do not include the deaths from diseases caused by toxic fumes and materials workers are exposed to all the time.

Globally some 700 ships are scrapped a year, mainly in five countries --China, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Vietnam -- and some in Turkey too, says a Greenpeace source.

With the global fleet growing fast, from 15,000 ships in the 1960s to 62,000 in 2000, and with the ships built before 1970 being sorted out for decommissioning, the number of ships to be condemned for scrapping will also rise in future.

The Daily Star carried out reports about all those Greenpeace listed ships even before entering the country's territory and dismantling.


The lawyers' association filed the writ in September last year, challenging entry of Greenpeace listed ship MT Enterprise into Bangladesh territory. Earlier, two such ships -- MT Alfaship and SS Norway -- were however denied entry into Bangladesh waters.

Following the court directives yesterday, BELA in an instant petition sought further judicial intervention for direction upon the government to frame rules and regulate ship-breaking. The association alleged that the government was reluctant in compliance with the earlier judgment pronounced on July 6, 2006 in the case of MT Alfaship by another HC bench.

The court also asked the respective respondents to convey the court orders to shipyards by special messengers so that there is no delay in complying with those.

The matter will appear for order on April 7 when the DoE will have to inform the court the progress made in closing the non-compliant yards and operation.

The BELA petition was moved by former attorney general Fida M Kamal with assistance from S Rizwana Hasan, Bahreen Khan and Iqbal Kabir.

Meanwhile, SM Al Mamun, son of Awami League lawmaker Abul Kashem Master, destroyed 125 acres of Para forest in Sonaichhari, planted 18 years ago, to build a shipyard after the AL came to power.

Bangaldesh order of 2008



An application under Article 102(2)(a)(i) and (ii) of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.



Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), represented by its Director (Prgrams) Syeda Rizwana Hasan, having office at House No. 15A, Road No. 3, Dhanmondi R/A, Dhaka 1205.

.... Petition.


Bangladesh, represented by the Secretary, Ministry of Shipping Bangladesh Secretariat, Ramna, Dhaka others.

.... Respondents.

Mr. Fida M. Kamal with
Mr. M. Iqbal Kabir, Advocate
... For the Petition.
Ms. Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Advocate
... In Persons.
Mr. Md. Nazrul Islam Talukder, Deputy Attorney General with
Ms. Nowazish Ara Begum, Assistant Attorney General.
.... For the respondent No. 6.

Mr. Md. Oziullah with
Ms. Amatul Karim, Advocate.
.... For the respondent No. 17.

Ms. Fawzia Karim Firoze, Advocate.

.... For the respondent No. 8.

Heard on: 02.02.2009, 03.02.2009, 05.02.2009, 08.02.2009, 10.02.2009, 12.02.2009 & 23.02.2009.

Judgment on 05.03.2009 & 17.03.2009.

Mr. Justice Md. Imman Ali
Mr. Justice Sheikh Abdul Awal.
(Operative Portion of Order).

In the light of the above, we draw the following conclusions;

With regard to import of vessels for scrapping generally;

1. Decommissioned sea-going vessels, including end-of-life single-hull oil tankers which have been destined for disposal/recycling, are being sent from European and other countries to be dismantled in Bangladesh without first being decontaminated of hazardous materials as is required by the Basel Convention.

2. Vessels enlisted in the Greenpeace list of vessels containing hazardous materials are being imported on false representation both by the sellers as well as by the importers.

3. Ministry of Shipping through its Department of Shipping is allowing import of hazardous waste (namely vessels meant for scrapping which are classified as waste within the meaning of the Basel Convention) and vessels containing hazardous materials, without proper scrutiny, in flagrant disregard to the safety and security of workers in the shipbreaking yards as well as demonstrating blatant indifference to the integrity of the environment and humans who live in the vicinity of the shipbreaking yards and other citizens of the country and having no consideration for the flora and fauna and ecological balance which are also seriously affected by toxic pollutants generated by the dismantling process.

Import of vessel MT Enterprise:

1. Respondent No. 17, Madina Enterprise initially obtained the NOC for import of vessel MT Enterprise from the Department of shipping by misrepresenting the fact that the vessel was not enlisted on the Greenpeace list of vessels containing hazardous materials, and that it did not contain any hazardous materials.

2. The Department of Shipping issued the NOC for the import of MT Enterprise without exercising due diligence, in a manner which can be termed as subterfuge.

3. The Survey Committee appointed by the Department of Shipping was not representative of the relevant persons, inasmuch as the Department of environment, being a vital component, was totally ignored.

4. The terms of reference of the Survey commissioned by the Department of Shipping appears to be self-serving, motivated and misconceived and does not reflect the real purpose of such survey. The test applied was illogical and the findings of the Committee are unacceptable in view of independent reports regarding similar oil tankers, which lead us to doubt the bona fides of the intention of those instigating and conducting the survey.

5. Having found that at least some hazardous materials exist on board, it was inappropriate to allow the vessel to beach without first ascertaining the capability of the ship breaker to handle the hazardous materials adequately ensuring the safety of the workers and wellbeing of the environment.

6. The way in which the earlier writ petition, W. P. No. 6262 of 2008, was caused to be disposed and the way in which the cancellation of the NOC was withdrawn, as if the Court ordered the withdrawal, was demonstration of ingenuity on the part of the Department of Shipping.

With regard to shipbreaking yards operating without prior clearance certificates;

1. Shipbreaking is an industry as defined in section 2(61) of the evsjv‡`k kªg AvBb, 2006|

2. Admittedly, respondent No. 17, Madina Enterprise has dismantled the vessel MT Enterprise without obtaining any Environmental Clearance.

3. The Shipbreaking yards which are habitually allowing scrapping of vessels, which they import themselves or which are imported by others and are dismantled on their premises are required by law to obtain prior Environmental Clearance from the Department of Environment.

4. Where the premises are not ordinarily used for shipbreaking, but where importers scrap vessels imported by them, the importer is required to obtain prior Environmental Clearance to proceed with the scrapping as a project.

5. According to the report of the Ministry of Environment and Department of Environment 36 shipbreaking yards in the Chittagong area have been and are operating the process of dismantling ships and other sea-going vessels in flagrant violation of the existing laws of the land which require prior Environmental clearance from the Department of Environment.

5. The department of Environment has failed miserably in its duty to enforce the law, having all the powers to do so as given by the evsjv‡`k cwi‡ek msi¶Y AvBb, 1995 and the Rules framed thereunder.

in view of the above conclusions, we hereby issue the following directions:

1. So far as the vessel M. T. Enterprise is concerned the injunction on further dismantling of the ship will continue until such time as the respondent No. 17 obtains a clearance certificate from the Department of Environment for the purpose of dismantling the remainder of the vessel.

2. The Ministry of Environment and Department of Environment are directed to immediately take steps to ensure closure of all shipbreaking yards which are operating without necessary Environmental Clearance as required by law.

3. The law-enforcing agencies, including the Police, Magistracy and local administration are directed to accord cooperation and assistance to the Department of Environment as enjoined by section 4(ka) of the evsjv‡`k cwi‡ek msi¶Y AvBb, 1995 in ensuring the closures of shipbreaking yards operating without prior clearance from the Department of Environment.

4. The Department of Environment is directed to the compliance within 2(two) weeks giving details of what steps they have taken in this regard.

5. If and when the shipbreaking yards or any importer of any vessel apply for clearance certificate, then the Department of Environment shall deal with the application expeditiously and supply the clearance certificate only upon satisfaction that all the facilities required for proper dismantling of the vessels, taking into consideration whether safety measures for the workers and the conservation of the environment and in particular disposal of hazardous waste generated by the dismantling process, are in place.

6. The Ministry of Environment is hereby directed to frame Rules and regulations for the proper handling and management of hazardous materials and wastes, keeping in view the [evsjv‡`k cwi‡ek msi¶Y AvBb, 1995 [Environment Conservation Act, 1995], the Rules framed thereunder, the Basel Convention, 1989 the Factories Act, 1965 and evsjv‡`k kªg AvBb [Labour Act, 2006]

7. Thereafter the Ministry of Environment is directed to file compliance in this regard within 3(three) months from receiving a copy of the judgment.

8. The Ministry of Shipping and Department of Shipping are directed to ensure that hazardous vessels enlisted in the Greenpeace list of vessels containing hazardous materials are not imported into the country and when such vessels are imported after having been decontaminated at source or outside the territory of Bangladesh, that prior Environmental clearance has been obtained on showing that adequate safety and precautionary measures have been taken for their dismantling in accordance with law.

9. The Government is directed to set up a High Level Technical Committee comprising representatives from the Ministry/Department of Shipping, the Ministry/Department of Environment, Ministry of Labour and Manpower, Retired Naval officers, Academicians/Experts in the field of Marine Engineering, Marine Biology Specialists in the field of Environment, Soil Science and Ecology, Hazardous Waste Management and relevant NGOs, such as BELA.

Let the concluding portion of the Judgment and order along with the directions above be communicated to the respondents namely, respondent No. 5, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forest respondent No. 6, Director General, Department of Environment, respondent No. 1, Secretary, Ministry of Shipping, respondent No. 8, Director General, Department of Shipping, and respondent No. 17, Proprietor, Madina Enterprise at once by a special Messenger of this Court at the cost of the petitioner.

Md. Imman Ali
Sk. A. Awal.
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