A Bangladeshi woman whose husband died dismantling an oil tanker in a local shipyard was given the green light this week to keep pursuing a claim for compensation from a UK company linked to the vessel in a test case for the shipbreaking industry.
Britain's Court of Appeal threw out a request by London-based shipbroker Maran (UK) Ltd for the negligence case to be dismissed, the second appeal the company has lost.
Hamida Begum's husband, Khalil Mollah, 32, fell to his death in 2018 while breaking up the tanker Ekta in the Bangladesh port of Chattogram, home to one of the world's largest ship-breaking yards, where vessels are dismantled for scrap metal.
Her UK-based lawyers said working conditions in Bangladesh's yards were known to be dangerous and argued Maran bore responsibility for Mollah's death by selling the tanker to an intermediary knowing it would probably end up in Chittagong.
British lawyers representing Begum launched the legal battle in April 2019.
The International Labour Organization describes shipbreaking as one of the world's most dangerous occupations, but NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a coalition campaigning for safe ship recycling, said there was little accountability for deaths and injuries.
At least seven Bangladeshi shipbreaking workers died last year and 24 died in 2019, said non-profit Young Power in Social Action.
Law firm Leigh Day, which is representing Begum, said this was believed to be first judgment of a higher court that directly held that shipping companies can be held liable.
"The (findings) will send shockwaves around the shipping industry as a higher court has recognised that shipping companies choosing to send vessels to the beaches of Bangladesh may owe a duty of care to the local workers and can be liable," said Oliver Holland, a partner at Leigh Day.
Bangladesh is one of the top locations for dismantling end-of-life ships with at least 144 ships broken on its beaches last year, or about one in every five dismantled worldwide in 2020, according to a report by NGO Shipbreaking Platform.
Most of the others ended up in India, Pakistan and Turkey.