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15-Year-Old Boy Crushed to Death at Shipbreaking Yard in Bangladesh

July, 19 2012 Share

Fifteen-year-old Khorshed Alam was crushed to death at 3:30 am on July 17 when a huge metal plate fell on him.

This was Khorshed Alam’s first job.  He left school to help support his family.  He lied about his age, claiming he was 20 years old in order to be hired at the SRS shipbreaking yard in Chittagong, Bangladesh.  Supervisors always put the kids on the night shift, knowing no one will ever inspect the yards at night.

Fifteen-year-old Khorshed Alam worked a 12-hour shift, from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.  This is the season of the monsoon rains in Bangladesh.  There was constant driving rain and strong wind gusts.  Often the workers went barefoot walking in six inches or more of mud.

The senior “cutter man” was using his blow torch to cut apart a huge metal plate which had been dragged from the dismantled ship.  Khorshed was on the other side of metal plate.  It was 3:00 a.m. on July 17, when a heavy gust of wind toppled the iron slab, which fell on Khorshed, crushing him to death.  It took half an hour for his co-workers to finally lift the slab off his body.   They raced him to the Chittagong Medical College Hospital, but he was declared dead on arrival.

Khorshed Alam was paid just 25 cents an hour, and $2.75 a day.  He and his co-workers toiled an 11-hour, all-night shift, doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, dismantling huge cargo ships with their bare hands.  The senior “cutter men,” who use their blow torches to cut apart the ships, earn just 40 cents an hour and $4.45 for the 11 hours of work.

Khorshed Alam was so slight and young, that all the shipbreakers did everything they could to protect this child, but he was still killed.

Khorshed’s life was worth just $244, at least according to the owner of the SRS Shipbreaking Yard, Mr. Abdullah Al Mamun.  Mr. Mamun is the son of a local member of Bangladesh’s parliament, Mr. ABM Abul Qasem, who is himself a wealthy shipyard owner. Everything about this and other shipbreaking yards is blatantly illegal.  Under Bangladeshi law, no one under 18 years of age is permitted to work in unsafe or hazardous working conditions.  Nor are children allowed to work the night shift.  But that is exactly where the children are placed, on the night shift, when inspectors never visit the shipbreaking yards. 

Workers at the SRS yard have no ID cards, no work contracts, no employment appointment letter.  It is as if these workers are hourly and daily contract laborers who have absolutely no benefits or legal rights.

The only thing the workers get from the shipyard owner is a pair of cheap gloves every 15 days.  The workers could use boots, but they never get them.  The drinking water in the yard is heavily polluted.  There is no place in the shipyard to eat.  A doctor is available for just four hours during the day shift.  There is no ambulance in the yard for workers who are badly injured and need to be raced to a hospital.

When the Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh called Mr. Abdullah Al Mamum, the owner of the SRS Shipbreaking Yard, he responded that he knew nothing about the accident.  In fact he was in the capital of Dhaka and not in Chittagong.  He saidno one worked during such ungodly hours at his yard.”  If he were telling the truth, the 15-year-old boy would not be dead.

There are approximately 170 workers at the SRS Shipbreaking Yard which operates around the clock, with back to back day and night shifts.

The ship Khorshed and the other workers were cutting apart was the Kang Hua cargo ship (IMO 8128092) which was built in 1983 in Ulsan, South Korea, by Hyundai.  The 24,000-ton ship appears to have been owned by Dragon Wealth Shipping Ltd. in Fujian, China.  

 


Find out more about shipbreakers and deadly accidents in Bangladesh's shipbreaking yards