The government enacted the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act in 2018 and asked owners of ship-breaking yards to adopt safe and environmentally friendly methods as per the Hong Kong International Convention, but only one of around 150 yards has turned green in these two years.
Most yards are reluctant to adopt the green ship-breaking standards because of the costs associated with the process. Currently, only three other yards are trying to achieve those standards.
India, China and Turkey have already turned their ship recycling facilities green as prescribed by the Hong Kong International Convention adopted back in 2009.
Bangladesh had set a target to turn all ship-breaking yards into green facilities by February 2023, but the current situation poses uncertainties that this target is achievable within the deadline.
The government had also set the same deadline for modernising this industry.
Only PHP Family's ship-breaking yard is currently certified as a green facility under the Hong Kong International Convention. They spent around Tk55 crore to achieve this feat.
Among more than 150 yards, some 70-80 yards operate on a regular basis. Of them, Khawja Steel, SN Corporation and Arefin Enterprise – all three located at Sitakunda in Chattogram – are trying to develop green ship-breaking yards.
Due to the lack of environment-friendly yards, Bangladesh is not only facing tougher competition from countries such as India, China and Turkey, but also is failing to reduce workplace deaths at the yards.
"Deaths at the ship-breaking yards are negatively impacting this industry in Bangladesh," said Mohammad Ali Shahin, coordinator of Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) – a non-government development organisation that has been working on shipyard-related issues since 2000.
In ship-breaking yards across the country, 11 workers died in workplace accidents in 2010, seven in 2011, 21 in 2012, 11 in 2013, nine in 2014, 16 in 2015, 17 in 2016, 15 in 2017, 18 in 2018 and 24 died in 2019.
Five workers died due to accidents at ship-breaking yards from January to July this year.
Mohammad Moazzem Hossain, regional director of the Department of the Environment (DoE) in Chattogram, told The Business Standard, "Our ship breakers do not want to change their mindset, and they do not want to invest the required amount to modernise their yards.
"It is also quite costly to turn a regular yard into a green one."
YPSA Coordinator Shahin said, "Investment funding of crores of Taka is also a significant barrier for the yard owners. Besides, it takes around two-three years to build a green yard and the facility also needs international certification.
"So, the yard owners should be motivated to invest the required amount of time and money for turning their yards into green yards."
It takes at least Tk20-30 crore to modernise one ship-breaking yard. So, Tk3,000-4,500 crore will be needed to modernise around 150 shipyards across the country.
A yard owner has to comply with a number of international standards to build a green yard, such as paving the whole yard floor with concrete and installing tower cranes or floating cranes for handling ship blocks to avoid manual handling.
Ensuring security, safety, health care and training for workers and making personal protective equipment mandatory for them are also necessary steps towards achieving a green certification.
Other necessary compliances are building a blast water treatment facility, separate storage facility for hazardous waste, storage of oxygen, installing an effective fire fighting system with sufficient water storage facility, and having a water treatment plant for ensuring availability of pure and clean water.
Responding to a query, Arefin Enterprise's Managing Director Kamal Uddin said, "The process needs a huge investment of time and money.
"We are trying to turn our yard into a green facility, but the price of scrap has dropped by around 50 percent due to the coronavirus pandemic. We are currently struggling to survive."
Mohammad Sarwar Alam, director of Mostafa Hakim Group's ship-breaking yard Golden Iron, said, "We have already begun working to turn our shipyard into a green one. Our competitor countries, such as India and Pakistan, have facilities for treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste.
"The governments of those countries arranged it. But Bangladesh has no such facility. Norway, under a project, will set up a hazardous waste disposal unit in Chattogram. It will help us in getting a green certificate."
When contacted, Ministry of Industries' Additional Secretary (Ship Recycling) AKM Shamsul Areefin said, "We are still hopeful that we will be able to get the HKC certification for some yards within the target of February 2023.
"We started working by setting a target for modernising 10 ship-breaking yards, but the Covid-19 pandemic halted our plan. We have given yard owners an action plan and they are working to achieve compliance."
Shamsul continued, "The process actually needs a huge investment. The workers are also uneducated, and they are negligent about following safety guidelines. Despite the issues, we are trying to turn at least 50-60 yards into green facilities by 2023."
The Ministry of Industries is also working to modernise the ship-breaking industry. It requires around Tk400-Tk500 crore for waste management of the yards. The government will seek a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for this purpose.
Recently, the government sought foreign help for this sector. It has asked Japan and Norway to work on ensuring environmental safety and security in Bangladesh's ship-breaking yards.
The ship-breaking industry supplies 2.5 million tonnes of scrap per year, and its annual turnover is around $800 million. Around two lakh people work in the sector.
According to the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, Bangladesh imported 236 scrap ships weighing 78.49 lakh tonnes in 2019, occupying the first position in importing scrap ships in the world. The same year, 24 workers lost their lives and 34 were injured at their workplaces.
Norway has committed approximately $1.5 million under the Safe and Environmentally Sound Ship Recycling in Bangladesh (SENSREC) project to support improved ship recycling in the country. It is the third phase of an International Maritime Organisation (IMO)-implemented project in the country.
The agreement in this regard was signed between IMO and the Government of Norway on July 24 this year. It will take 18 months to implement Phase III of the project, and it will start from November 2020.
Earlier, Norway and IMO implemented two other projects on safety of workers. The third phase is now focusing on hazardous waste disposal.
According to several ship-breaking yard owners, Norway implemented a project of $1.4 million with help of IMO to provide the shipyard workers with safety training. Under the project, 30 workers were given training in 2016-2017.
Besides, separate studies were conducted on the quantity of waste in the imported scrap ships and its impact on the country's economy.
Currently, 800 workers are being trained under another project of $1 million. An American organisation is training the workers, while the Bangladesh Marine Academy is working as a partner.
What is Green Yard?
All the activities of recycling a scrap ship take place in a ship-breaking yard. When the yard follows the regulations of the International Maritime Organisation, complies with certain standards and ensures that no pollution occurs in the surrounding land and sea, it is called a green yard.
The yard also has to follow the Hong Kong Convention.
The shipyard of PHP Family was certified as green under the Hong Kong International Convention in 2017. The company bought the first green vessel – certified to contain no material hazardous to health – after getting the status of green yard.
It has spent Tk55 crore to modernise its shipyard since 2016. Different companies of Norway and India worked to modernise the PHP Family's shipyard.