RANDOM FACT #13 - IN BANGLADESH, MEN DESPERATE FOR WORK RISK THEIR LIVES DAILY IN THE SHIP-BREAKING INDUSTRY




Men desperate for work in Bangladesh, put their lives on the line daily when performing one of the world's most dangerous jobs - ship-breaking.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MIKE HETTWER

Ships aren't meant to be taken apart. They are built to withstand some of the worst conditions imaginable in the most difficult of environments. They are often constructed with toxic materials such as asbestos and lead.

When ships are scrapped in the developed world, the process is more strictly regulated and expensive, so the bulk of the world’s shipbreaking is done in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, where labour is cheap and oversight is minimal - shipyards can operate without the risk of personal injury lawsuits or workers' health claims. Protective equipment is sometimes absent or inadequate.

The sandy beaches cannot sufficiently support the heavy equipment, which is thus prone to collapse. Many are injured from explosions when flammable gas is not removed from fuel tanks.

"On average, one worker dies in the yards a week and every day a worker is injured. It seems like nobody really cares. Workers are easily replaceable to the yard owners: if one is lost they know another 10 are waiting to replace him. The government collects the taxes and turns a blind eye," says Muhammed Shahin, an officer with local watchdog group Young Power in Social Action.

There is, however, an active ship breaker's union in Mumbai, India (Mumbai Port Trust Dock and General Employees’ Union) since 2003 with 15,000 members, which strikes to ensure fatality compensation. It has set up a sister branch in Alang, gaining paid holidays and safety equipment for workers since 2005. They hope to expand all along the South Asian coastline.

But in Bangladesh, where 194 ships were dismantled in 2013, the industry remains extremely dirty and dangerous - and highly lucrative.





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