The ministries of commerce and environment and the Department of Explosives are the operative authorities which share the responsibilities in varying degree of saving the ship breaking yard workers from health hazards and the surrounding environs from pollution. But it seems there is little coordination in the way they operate or at worst, they are working at cross-purposes.
This is illustrated by the fact that the environment and forest ministry in a letter to the commerce ministry advised the latter to relax its rules regarding import of toxic ships without submission of pre-cleaning certificates from the exporters. This is shifting from the commerce ministry's amendment to its import order on January 28 making it obligatory on the ship exporters to submit pre-cleaning certificate before any ship enters our territorial waters.
It is stated by the environment and forest ministry that government officials would examine the ships to issue cleaning certificates at this end. What we can understand is that the responsibility of whether a ship carries toxic substances would now critically and entirely, devolve on our officials. Of course, these would have to be examined at our end; by all means do it; but would it not have been a fail-safe mechanism if the pre-cleaning certificates were produced by the exporters to do an effective cross-checking with? We feel that the relaxation of the rule could spawn manipulation, and even corruption, even though the environment ministry seems determined not to allow intrusion of hazardous vessels in to our maritime territory .
As it is, a large number of ship breaking yards themselves have no clearance certificates; yet they are operating with impunity risking all sorts of hazard to 30,000 workers and posing economic risks to their dependents.
Clearly, government's compliance with the High Court directives to formulate necessary ship-breaking laws in conformity with Bangladesh's obligations under international conventions and her own environment conservation act and rules has been long overdue.