All's not well | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 03, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 03, 2010

All's not well

Environment dept happy on progress of 16 ship-breaking yards with temporary clearance, insiders tell otherwise

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Two of the ships that were brought in through legal loopholes. The photo was taken from Sitakunda. Photo: Courtesy

The 16 ship-breakers who have been granted temporary environmental clearance are not doing much to fulfil the 56 conditions on which they obtained the go-ahead, said industry insiders.
The Department of Environment (DoE) has, however, expressed satisfaction over the environmental management of ship-breaking yards although those yards are not equipped to handle toxic substance in ships.
The environmental management committee of the department in its 288th meeting on October 18, 19 and 21 made the decision although the law does not allow any environment clearance certificate on a temporary basis.
Jafar Ahmed, director of Chittagong DoE, yesterday said they have been visiting the ship-breaking yards time to time and are happy with the progress made so far.
He mentioned about cranes, pressure rooms and some other equipment the ship breakers are arranging at the yards.
Asked about the mechanism of cleaning toxic vessels, he defended the ship breakers saying, "Cleaning of the in-built substances of a ship is a very costly procedure. We will dump the heavy toxic materials like asbestos underground or sell it to China."
There are different in-built toxic substances including asbestos, lead, mercury, PCB, barium, cadmium etc in most of the ships, especially in oil tankers dismantled in these yards.
The High Court in March 2009 directed the government not to allow any ship in Bangladesh without cleaning its in-built toxins.
According to the existing environmental law, the ship breaking yards are identified as category Red [extremely dangerous] and environmental clearance certificate is mandatory for them although ship-breaking yards had been operating without clearance certificate.
"The conditions have to be implemented within three months and if the yards fail to comply with that, their certificates would be forfeited," said Md Shajahan, convener of the environmental management committee.
He said they had taken the decision based on the suggestion from the environmental management committee in Chittagong.
The Chittagong committee recommended MAC Corporation (Shipyard), KRL Shipbreaking, Kabir Steel Ltd, Ratanpur Steel Re-rolling Mills Ltd, Jamuna Steel, PHP Ship breaking and Re-cycling Industries, Prime Ship, SN Corporation, BBC Steel, KSB Steel, Achhadi Steel Enterprise, S Trading, SK Shipbreaker, Peninsula Steel Mills, SH Enterprise, Sico Steel ltd.
The DoE has hastily moved for temporary clearance as the Supreme Court directed the government to ensure that all ship-breaking yards took the clearance certificates from the department.
"The department has taken this decision as most of the yards are not in operation for a few months failing to comply with the court order," said an employee of a development organisation who has been working on ship-breaking yard for a long time.
The director of Chittagong DoE said they are doing everything as per the High Court direction.
He said they had suggested that the Dhaka office give clearance certificates to those 16 ship-breaking yards that would implement their management plans the fastest.
The minutes of the 288th meeting of the environment department emphasised that the ship-breaking yards are not allowed to pollute earth, water or air in anyway let alone sound.
The yards also have to ensure safety to the workers and take clearance for the specific vessels they would dismantle.
"Some of the conditions for the yards, like oil-spillage control, cannot be implemented now as this hazard is difficult to determine until a vessel is brought ashore and dismantled," said Jafar Ahmed.
Presently, there are 50 ship-breaking yards that have applied for clearance certificates without proper structures or modern facilities of dismantling ships.
Almost all of them toe scrap vessels in open beach and dismantle them manually, which is extremely risky for the workers. Each year many die and scores more sustain injury in this industry.
In it's order the High Court on March 17 2009 directed the government to close operation of all ship-breaking yards in two weeks for running without environmental clearance. Later the Supreme Court stayed the directions of closing the yards while all other HC verdicts sustained.
During that time only 36 ship breaking yards were in operation which have now shot up to over 100 despite the court directed the government not to allow any new yards to start operation without the clearance certificates.
In the order 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.
As per the HC order, no ship-breaking operation will take place from then on without environmental clearance. The government has to ensure that ships are dismantled after safe working condition for the workers is guaranteed and the shipyards have appropriate disposal arrangements for hazardous waste and protection of environment.
The court also directed the ministry of Environment and Forest to frame necessary rules on ship-breaking within three months relying on the obligations of Bangladesh under the Basel Convention, 1989, the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 and the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997.
In 2008 total 84 vessels were scrapped in Sitakunda. Scrapping a ship takes one month to one and a half months depending on its size.
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 annually in the 1960s to 62,000 in 2000. 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.

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