The industry, according to the study due to be published in the July 2014 issue of Marine Policy, is expanding dramatically at the cost of the environment. In the Sitakunda area, where most of the ship-breaking yards are located, mangrove forests have vanished, according to one of the authors, Abdullah Faruque, professor law at the Chittagong University.
“Sitakunda’s trees have been cut down to make way for the ship-breaking industry,” says Mohd. Abdul Matin, general secretary of the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan, a prominent environmental non-government organisation. “New trees don’t grow there because the soil is highly contaminated with toxic chemicals,” he tells SciDev.Net.
"On top of this irreparable damage, we also face massive loss of marine life,” says Matin. “Fish are often seen floating up dead in the surrounding sea, and fresh water around the coastal areas of Sitakunda contains many toxic chemicals."
Formalised in 2006, the industry had by 2012 allowed Bangladesh to recover an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of steel. At the same time, according to the study, thousands of tonnes of toxic substances such as asbestos, lead, waste oil and other chemicals were discharged into the soil and sea.
Faruque says that changes in laws are necessary to ensure that the ship-breaking industry continues to provide the country with valuable steel, but without destroying its coastline and its valuable natural assets. Failure to amend the laws, he says, could result in the countries of origin turning to other destinations for the scrapping and disposal of their end-of-life ships.
“The aim of our evaluation was to demonstrate that Bangladeshi laws could be incorporated into the core of the international regulatory instruments to minimise the environmental damage caused by this industry,” Faruque tells SciDev.Net.
“While the global operation of ship-breaking is regulated by a number of international instruments, Bangladesh has neither incorporated any of them nor developed comprehensive domestic legislation to address these concerns,” Faruque says.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, executive director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, says, “It’s very unfortunate that even after restrictive rulings by the highest court of the country the deadly industry continues to expand. There appears to be no political will to bring the industry to order.”
Link to abstract in Marine Policy paper