Fire on beached tanker kills two shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh

Workers of shipbreaking yards in Chittagong. Credit: PA

Two workers were killed at the Shagorika Ship Breaking Yard in Chittagong, Bangladesh last month after a fire broke out in the engine room of the beached tanker Greek Warrior.

The vessel had been sold to Bangladeshi breakers by the Greek firm Polembros Shipping in 2018. The company has sent at least 24 end-of-life ships to South Asian beaches in the past decade, with roughly half of them reaching Bangladesh.

According to the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a coalition campaigning for clean and safe ship recycling, “unscrupulous” shipping companies are known to exploit the poor working and environmental conditions in the country to maximise their ship scrapping profits. Greek owners are known to have beached more than 900 vessels since 2009 – making them the world’s most prolific dumpers.

Greek Warrior’s name was changed to S Warrior, and its flag from Panama to Palau, before its final voyage to Bangladesh. According to maritime databases cited by Shipbreaking Platform, the cash buyer involved in the sale was Prayati Shipping Pvt. Ltd, based in Mumbai, India.

To cut costs and avoid being held accountable, cash buyers often change a vessel’s flag to a last voyage “flag of convenience,” such as Palau or St Kitts and Nevis. Cash buyers also register a ship under a new name and a new post box company, making it difficult for authorities to trace and hold cash buyers and ship owners accountable for illicit business practices.

“It is about time that the Greek government puts an end to the appalling shipbreaking practices of its shipping industry and holds it liable for the irreparable damages caused by beaching,”, said Ingvild Jenssen, executive director and founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “The EU has set a standard that should be followed by Greek ship owners, even when not sailing their vessels under an EU flag.”

According to data released by Shipbreaking Platform at the start of this year, 744 large ocean-going commercial vessels were sold to scrap yards in 2018. Of these vessels, 518 were broken down on tidal mudflats in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan – amounting to 90.4% of the gross tonnage dismantled worldwide.