Experts have blamed the lack of safety measures for the frequent casualties at the ship breaking yards in Chittagong's Sitakunda.
At least six workers were killed in the first three months of this year. Last year, the number was 16.
In the latest incident, Afil Rema, a 25-year-old man from Netrakona, was killed at Khaza Ship Breaking Yard yesterday morning, said Inspector Palash Kumar Das of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, Chittagong.
Afil was cutting a ballast tank with a blow torch when suddenly there was an explosion, leaving him critically injured, said Palash, adding that the worker was rushed to Chittagong Medical College Hospital where doctors declared him dead around 10:30am.
On February 22, another worker, Harun-ur-Rashid, a 45-year-old man from Naogaon, died of his injuries at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
He had sustained serious wounds in a similar incident at Jamuna Ship Breaking Yard on February 18. Harun too was cutting a tank with a blow torch. Two other workers were also injured.
Talking to The Daily Star, Palash said the accidents happened due to a lack of precautionary safety measures at the ship breaking yards.
“According to the rules concerned, these types of tanks or pipes should be cut with hacksaws, not with blow torch,” he said.
Asked, he said the authorities of many ship breaking yards discourage workers from using hacksaw as cutting metals with that consumes time, putting lives at risk.
Contacted, Mejbah Uddin, manager of Jamuna Ship Breaking Yard, claimed that the three workers injured on February 18 were not cutting any tank.
“Actually they were standing on a tank and cutting a pipe. There was an explosion probably because flames came in contact with fire,” he said.
Asked about the use of blow torch instead of hacksaws, he said, “It's unfortunate that the accident happened. There was no oil inside the pipe. We had washed it with water.”
The Daily Star could not contact anyone from the authorities of Khaza Ship Breaking Yard.
According to NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a Brussels-based international organisation working for ensuring safety in the sector, said at least 181 workers were killed in accidents in different ship breaking yards in Sitakunda between 2005 and 2017.
There are around 100 such yards in the upazila.
Mohammad Ali Shahin, Bangladesh coordinator of the platform, held the lack of safety measures responsible for the frequent accidents.
Also, there is no effective monitoring from the government side on the issue, he said, adding, “The government officials concerned visit the yards only when there is an accident and skip their responsibilities by filing cases with labour courts or issuing show cause notices to the [yard] owners.”
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers' Association (Bela), said ship breaking activities should be done in dry docks to avoid such accidents.
“Lack of safety measures is responsible for the accidents and all the government offices responsible for the monitoring maintain a liaison with the yard owners. They do not do their job properly,” she said, adding that the number of accidents would come down significantly if the matter was monitored properly.
Abdul Hai Khan, deputy inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, refuted the allegations.
“We have a manpower crisis. It is not possible for only two inspectors appointed for the zone to visit around 100 yards every day,” he said.
“Despite limitations, we are trying our best to deliver the best,” he added.