The environment and forest ministry has requested the commerce ministry to relax its rules to allow ship breakers to import toxic ships without submission of pre-cleaning certificates from exporters.
The import of such ships will pose risks of health hazards for ship-breaking workers and widespread environmental pollution in the country's coastal belt.
In a letter to the commerce ministry on Wednesday, the environment and forest ministry said government officials would examine the ships and issue cleaning certificates.
"We have sent the letter to the commerce ministry. But we shall not let any ship pollute the environment. Our officials will examine the ships and only those without toxic substances will be allowed to enter the country's maritime territory," said Environment and Forest Secretary Dr Mihir Kanti Majumder.
He said the ministry is preparing a code of conduct on ship breaking in line with the High Court order and directives from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
"We shall complete it within two months," the secretary said.
Following an HC order, the commerce ministry amended its import policy order 2009-12 on January 28 this year making it mandatory for ship exporters to submit pre-cleaning certificate before any ship enters the country's maritime territory.
The HC directed the government to ensure cleaning of all ships before they enter the country and safety of ship-breaking workers, following a writ petition on March 18, 2009.
The Department of Customs recently barred at least 10 ships from entering the country's maritime territory as their exporters did not have any pre-cleaning certificates.
The Department of Explosives issues cleaning certificate to ship breakers but the system failed to prevent environmental pollution and reduce the number of accidents.
The last major accident occurred on December 26 last year at Rahim Steel, which had a cleaning certificate from the Department of Explosives. Six people were killed and 12 others sustained severe burn injuries in the incident.
Export or import of foreign ships without cleaning them is a violation of Basel Convention 1989, which Bangladesh has already ratified.
Sources said the environment and forest ministry made the move after ship breakers from Chittagong held talks with Environment and Forest Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud, who hails from the port city.
In its directive on the government on March 18, the court asked the environment and forest ministry to formulate within three months necessary rules on ship-breaking in line with Bangladesh's obligations under the Basel Convention, 1989, the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 and the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997.
But the ministry did not take enough measures to control the ship breakers.
None of the 36 ship-breaking yards at that time took clearance certificate in accordance with the environmental law, rather the number of illegal yards doubled in the last 10 months. Many of them were set up clearing mangrove forests in Sitakunda.
Several visits to ship-breaking yards in Sitakunda revealed that none of the yards had any mechanism to deal with toxic wastes, which they directly dump into sea.
Over 30,000 workers are engaged in ship scrapping in Chittagong's Sitakunda, which houses the world's second largest ship-breaking industry. At least 250,000 people in the country live off the industry directly and indirectly, according to experts.
In 2008, 84 vessels were scrapped in Sitakunda. According to an International Labour Organisation report, 551 minor and 42 major accidents took place in the country's 36 ship-breaking yards from 1996 to 1998.
The recent report of a survey, conducted by Greenpeace and International Federation for Human Rights, said on average at least one worker is injured a day and one dies a week.