February, 05 2017 |  Download PDF |  Share

Shipbreakers Continue to Suffer and Die in Chittagong, Bangladesh

Nineteen shipbreakers killed in 2016; Many more severely injured.
Paid 40 cents an hour to work the most dangerous job in the world.





When the huge tank and freighter ships that carry the world’s goods from producer country to consumer market reach the end of their working life, many of them are sent to Chittagong, Bangladesh to be recycled.  There, they are beached along a ten-mile stretch along the Bay of Bengal, in shipbreaking yards that hire young men and boys paid 40 cents an hour to cut them apart with blow torches.

This may be the most dangerous job in the world.  Workers are killed in explosions and fires when blow-torch sparks ignite residual oil and fumes left in the ship’s hold.  They are crushed when slabs of metal weighing several tons fall on them.  They are asphyxiated or poisoned by toxic gases that accumulate inside enclosed tanks.  They fall a hundred feet or more from the ship’s deck or down unprotected stairwells in the darkness. They are without protective equipment—no helmets, welders vests, goggles, respiratory gear or safety harnesses. 

Workers tell us, “When we come to the shipbreaking yards, we know that we may be signing a contract with our own death warrant.  But our families need to eat.”  Most of the workers come from North Bengal.  They send most of their meager wages back to their families, while they themselves share a tiny rented room with two or three co-workers.

But beaching and breaking ships in Bangladesh is a huge money-making proposition for buyers and sellers alike. While international shipping lines can turn a profit when they sell their end-of-life ships to a proper recycling facility where they work is done in dry-dock by trained workers in protective gear, they can earn far more—several million dollars by selling the ship to be beached and broken in Bangladesh. The shipbreaking yard owners are very wealthy men, many of whom also own steel re-rolling mills that process the scrap steel into construction materials.

Meanwhile, neither the international shipping industry, nor the yard owners, nor the Bangladeshi government are moving effectively to protect the shipbreaking workers, who continue to die at an alarming rate.


Click here to view the full report.

Click here to view more of our work with Bangladeshi shipbreakers.