Fire breaks out at Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard

In an explosion aboard the Bunga Kelana 4, beached at Mahinur Ship Breaking yard in Chittagong, Bangladesh on 15 May, two workers have died and five more injured.

This incident is one among many and follows in the wake of numerous calls for an increased need for training and safety equipment to be provided to workers.  

The explosion at Mahinur Ship Breaking yard on 15 May 2019 is thought to be the result of abandoned waste oil being stored too close to where workers were torch-cutting steel parts, leading to the spread of flames and the eventual explosion. The explosion resulted in the deaths of Mohammod Rubel and Hamidul Islam, while five other workers suffered severe burn injuries and are currently undergoing treatment at the Chattogram Medical College Hospital. Local sources report that several workers might still be missing. 

The conditions at Mahinur Ship Breaking are shocking and unfortunately telling of the overall appalling working conditions at the Bangladeshi shipbreaking yards. Workers are exposed to enormous risks because there is no infrastructure available on the beach to ensure safe working conditions and rapid emergency response,” said Muhammed Ali Shahin of Young Power in Social Action (YPSA). 

The fire is the latest in a series of incidents that have occurred in ship breaking yards in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi organisation OSHE, member of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, claims that the death of a worker, Tara Miya, was covered up in the Mahinur Ship Breaking yard a few days before this latest incident.  

In February 2019, a fire aboard the Greek Warrior killed two workers, Jamil and Bipul, at the Sagorika Ship Breaking Yard in Chittagong. Previously, in November 2018, two workers were killed and seven injured at the Sitakund Ship Breaking Yard. The same month, a worker at the Golden Iron Works Limited Ship Breaking Yard was killed by a falling iron plate, while a gas cutter was severely burned at the Sagorika Ship Breaking Yard.  

IndustriALL noted that 19 people had been killed and several more injured in Bangldeshi shipbuilding yards in 2018, which was the highest number since 2009 when 25 people lost their lives. Previously, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform reported that the first three quarters of 2017 alone had 14 cases of fatalities.  

Speaking to Safety at SeaKan Matsuzaki, the director of shipbuilding and shipbreaking at the IndustriALL Global Union said“There are still a lot of shipbreakers who ignore the safety at work in Bangladesh. The government should seriously accelerate the implementation of the 2018 Ship Recycling Act and ratification of the Hong Kong convention. A proper social dialogue system between the workers’ unions, the government authorities, and the employers should be set up to prevent further tragedies.”  

Despite the passing of the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Bill 2018 that specifies compliance with global laws and conventions, no emergency response equipment was available at the Mahinur Ship Breaking yard, nor were the workers provided with any protective equipment. In video footage, it is evident that many of the workers struggling to help the injured are barefoot.  

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform pointed out that this practice is hardly unusual. Over the past 10 years dangerous shipbreaking practices have seen several workers lose their lives, suffer severe injuries, and suffer exposure to toxic fumes and materialsThis is despite Norway having reached a funding agreement of USD1.1 million with Bangladesh to begin in January 2019, in order to allow the country to eventually ratify the Hong Kong Convention, to raise standards in the yards.