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Tuesday, March 8, 2011
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Green light to toxic ships

HC allows import, sets conditions for scrapping

The High Court yesterday allowed conditional import of toxic ships and their dismantling on the grounds that the importers and breakers must ensure public and workers' safety and environmental protection.

Though import of toxic scrap ships is allowed, the breakers would not be able to dismantle those until rules are framed in the light of six existing laws for protecting health, life and environment.

The court said no ships can be scrapped without cleaning toxic gas, adding, the importers would be able to import toxic ships but asbestos and toxic materials must be removed by experts before scraping.

The court further ordered to dump asbestos and other toxic materials in a certain disposal site where the danger warning "Do not enter. Toxic materials might cause cancer" in Bangla must be visible.

The HC allowed the import of ships and their scrapping until the government frames the rules to ban import of any hazardous ships. It also directed the government to frame the rules within next three months.

The HC bench of Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Justice Sheikh Md Zakir Hossain passed the order after disposing of a petition filed by Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association (BSBA) seeking permission to import ships for scrapping.

The same bench on January 19 issued a suo moto rule directing the government to stop all kinds of ship-breaking and prohibited import of ships until further order. The order came against the backdrop of an explosion inside a ship in Sitakunda that killed four workers on January 18.

Another HC bench headed by Justice M Imman Ali, now a judge of the Appellate Division, on December 15 last year directed the government to frame rules within next three months to ban import of any hazardous ships and restricted import of ships till framing of the rules.

According to the HC directive, the rules must be framed in the light of six existing laws -- the Basel Convention Act, 1989; Bangladesh Environment Protection Act, 1995; Bangladesh Marine and Fisheries Ordinance, 1989; Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006; Bangladesh Territorial Water and Maritime Zone Act, 1974; and Environment Protection Rules, 1997.

The HC bench headed by Justice AHM Shamsuddin yesterday said the conditions will be applicable until framing of rules in the light of the six existing laws.

Untrained labourers and workers under 18 cannot be engaged in breaking ships, the court said.

The workers will be trained in an institute, which will be set up by the owners of the ship-breaking yards under the supervision of Bangladesh Marine Academy, it added.

The court also directed the Marine Academy to prepare a manual within 15 days for setting up the institute where the workers will receive training for two months including a 15-day academic training.

A marine engineer will be present during scrapping, the HC said, adding, the ship-breakers will ensure the presence of the marine engineer.

The entire ship-breaking work will be monitored by a special team, the court mentioned.

The special team will include a physician, a naval architect of the Marine Academy nominated by Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), a chemical engineer also nominated by Buet, a representative from the Department of Environment (DoE) and a representative of Waste Concerned, an environmental organisation pioneer in waste management in the country.

The specialised team will submit reports on the records of the workers to the Directorate of Labour on a regular basis.

The court said a separate place away from the scrapping spots will have to be fixed for the workers to take food and rest.

No ship-breaking work will be allowed after dusk, it said, adding, smoking and lighting cookers will be prohibited in the ships.

The waste of the ships excluding asbestos must be cleaned before entering the territory of Bangladesh.

Asbestos has to be cleaned in the country by the expert workers under the supervision of a marine engineer, and modern equipment has to be purchased from abroad to clean asbestos.

If anyone violates the conditions, they will be punished on charge of committing contempt of court.

The court said the ship-breaking workers must be provided with aprons, helmets, gloves and other necessary safety gears.

It also ordered the government to set up a separate specialised hospital for the workers funded by the owners of the ship-breaking yards.

Modern technology must be used during breaking ships, Justice Manik said.

Waste of the ships has to be dumped into a specific place so that environment and water are not polluted, the court observed.

Earlier, the HC ordered the government in 2009 and again in last December that no scrap ship will enter the country without pre-cleaning and environmental certificate. However, the decision of importing toxic ships remains pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

The ruling came following a petition filed by Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association (Bela). The organisation filed the petition as supplementary to the original writ upon which the HC on March 17, 2009 directed the government to frame specific rules considering the relevant laws to prevent import of toxic ships.

Now the court moved from its earlier position considering the financial potentials of the ship-breaking industry.

Bela's lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan told The Daily Star they have no objection if the waste of ships is cleaned using modern equipment and technology.

If asbestos cement of the ships is cleaned in Bangladesh like other developed countries, that job will be much expensive, she said.

She added the HC allowed import of oil tankers, which are more dangerous than other toxic ships, as the oil tankers contain cancerous elements.

Rizwana said they have yet to decide to move an appeal with the Appellate Division against some of the HC directives.

Fida M Kamal, Syeda Rizwana Hasan and Iqbal Kabir Lytton appeared for Bela, while Barrister Rokanuddin Mahmud and Anisul Huq argued for the ship-breakers.

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