The campaign to ensure safety for workers at ship-breaking yards apparently had little impact. This photo taken in Chittagong yesterday shows workers doing the heavy lifting without even shoes. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das
The High Court yesterday issued a suo moto rule directing the government to stop all kinds of scrapping of ships in the country until further order.
The HC order came against the backdrop of another explosion on a ship at a ship-breaking yard in Sitakunda that killed four workers on Tuesday.
The HC bench also ordered the authorities concerned to move the unclean hazardous ship away from the beach until further order. It also issued a contempt of court rule against the owner of the yard Master Abul Kashem, and officials concerned.
The HC in March 2009 directed the government not to allow any ship in Bangladesh without cleaning its in-built toxins.
But with the permission of the Department of Environment, Master Kashem, owner of MAK Corporation, imported three hazardous ships in December last year and started dismantling those despite the HC ban.
The HC directed them to keep the ships, which were already imported for dismantling, at such places that those could be relocated in a short notice, and the officials concerned from customs and port authority could easily visit those.
The court also prohibited unloading materials from those ships until further order.
Yesterday the court also ordered the chairman of Chittagong Port Authority to form a committee with three experts within seven days to investigate the explosion.
The committee has to probe whether anybody was negligent in ensuring the workers' safety, and if there was any violation of the court's order regarding scrapping ships.
The committee will have to find out whether any negligent person was ever brought to book and whether the victims were duly compensated.
As per the court order, the committee also has to investigate what measures have been taken to prevent such accidents in the future.
The HC bench of Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Justice Sheikh Md Zakir Hossain issued a contempt of court rule against Master Abul Kashem, also vice-president of the Ship Breakers Owners Association, and the officials concerned.
In the rule the court asked them to explain within two weeks why they should not be punished on charge of committing contempt of court by breaking ships despite the HC restrictions.
The court ordered them to appear before it on January 28 for explanation.
The court came up with the order following a news published in The Daily Star yesterday with the headline, "Tragedy at ship-breaking yard again: Blast kills 4 workers".
The HC observed in the order that the court is not against import and breaking of ships, but those ships have to be free of any risk for health and security.
In another order the same bench also issued a rule upon the government to explain within two weeks why it should not be directed to allow four imported ships, now in outer anchor in Chittagong, to enter into the inner anchor.
This rule came following four separate writ petitions filed by three ship-breaking companies seeking direction from the court on the government to allow the four ships to enter the inner anchor.
The ship-breakers filed the petitions earlier this month.
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association (BELA) opposed the petitions saying those ships are not safe, as they have no pre-cleaning and environmental certificates.
Barrister Rokanuddin Mahmud and Advocate Anisul Huq appeared for ship-breakers, while Advocate Syed Rizwana Hasan and Advocate Iqbal Kabir Lytton argued for BELA.
In its March 17, 2009 order the HC directed the government to close operation of all ship-breaking yards in two weeks for running without environmental clearance.
The Supreme Court later stayed the HC order for closing the yards, while all other verdicts were sustained.
During that time only 36 ship-breaking yards were in operation. The number has now shot up to over 100, although the court had directed the government not to allow any new yard to start operation without clearance certificates.
In the order the HC considering the country's environmental degradation also ordered that no ship would enter Bangladesh territory for scrapping without cleaning its hazardous materials at source or outside the Bangladesh territory.
Meanwhile, DoE's Chittagong office that provided temporary clearance certificate to MAK Corporation for dismantling hazardous ships said the explosion was caused due to defiance of guidelines set by the explosives department.
DoE Chittagong Director Zafar Alam told The Daily Star yesterday, "According to our initial findings, the owners of the ship did not proceed as per guidelines set by the Department of Explosives during the pre-scrapping inspection," reports our Chittagong correspondent Daypayan Barua.
DoE is going to serve a show-cause notice to MAK asking its owners why their permission to scrap the ship should not be declared null and void, Zafar added.
The explosives department asked the owners to remove the stranded gases with blowers and inundate the areas with water in order to empty gas pockets before launching the actual dismantling work.
"We found out that the owners, in their haste, deployed inexperienced workers to cut the areas without taking any precautionary step suggested by experts," Zafar said, adding that they will take legal action against the yard.
Zafar Alam earlier told The Daily Star that they had been monitoring the activities of ship-breaking yards that got temporary clearance certificate to dismantle ships.