DEATHS of workers during ship-breaking are gradually on the rise. According to newspaper reports, in the last two days, four workers died at the ship-breaking yard of Sitakunda in Chittagong. Added to three other earlier casualties under similar circumstances, the death figure comes to seven within the span of only a week at three different ship-breaking yards of Sitakunda. In all the cases, the ill-fated labourers either inhaled poisonous gas or they were crushed under heavy metal plates.
Such deaths during ship-breaking activities have not also occurred for the first time. In fact, death of workers is, as it were, an accepted fact of life at the ship-breaking spots of the country. Small wonder, after the casualties occur, one hears no more about the victims and their families or about any measures, if any, to compensate the victims' families for the loss they suffered. Worse still, as far as our knowledge goes, one hardly ever comes across reports of any measures taken by the ship-breakers to ensure safety of workers at the workplace or to improve the condition of work to guard against similar deaths in the future.
Such deaths at the ship-breaking spots are extremely shocking. For it is not that owners of the ship-breaking business are unaware of the causes that lead to the fatalities. For at the designated yards, the workers, who are not adequately equipped with necessary safety gears, are exposed to the toxic cargoes the scrap ships carry. The workers recruited for the job, too, are often inexperienced. And they are also not cautioned about the risk their work involves.
The sad consequence of this glaring indifference to the lives of the ship-breaking workers is that the casualty figures are rising with every passing day. Neither the business involved, nor the government seem seized of the reality that the ship-breaking yards have, meanwhile, turned into a veritable death trap for the workers. And at the same time, the country's shores, too, have become a dumping ground for the scrap ships carrying all sorts of hazard.
In the circumstances, the government should take serious note of the rising rate of fatality at the ship-breaking yards and ensure that workers are not forced to work under life-threatening conditions. Apart from improving security at the workplace and the condition of work, there should also be arrangements for sufficiently compensating the families of the victims.