NGO condemns violence after shots fired at Bangladeshi shipbreaking yard

Guards at a shipbreaking company in Bangladesh injured seven people, including a 16-year-old boy, when they opened fire on a crowd protesting against the death of a worker at the yard last week.

Lobby group NGO Shipbreaking Platform has condemned the shooting, which it says “shows the climate of violence surrounding the shipbreaking yards”.

Shipbreaking worker Mohammad Sumon was killed on March 28 when he was run over by a truck transporting scrap steel on a private road inside the Kabir Steel yard, north of Chittagong in Bangladesh.

The accident also seriously injured Sumon’s brother, who also works at the yard, local reports say.

Management of the shipbreaking yard has reportedly refused to take responsibility for the accident because the truck was owned and operated by another company. This has so far prevented the victim’s family from claiming legal compensation.

Family members gathered to protest outside the yard and blocked traffic on the Dhaka Chittagong highway on March 28. Local press said authorities at Kabir Steel took Sumon’s body inside the yard and refused to hand it over to his relatives. It was then that the private security personnel employed by the shipbreaking yard began shooting at the group, reports say.

“This course of action represents unnecessary use of violence against unarmed protestors, and it shows the climate of violence surrounding the shipbreaking yards,” Patrizia Heidegger, executive director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, commented today. “Locals and workers protesting the conditions in the yards obviously put their lives in danger in an atmosphere in which shipbreaking yards feel entitled to shoot at people.”

Bangladesh’s IndustriAll Global Union has written to the prime minister of Bangladesh, asking him to condemn the shooting and that justice be served for both negligent yard owners and the security guards that assaulted protestors.

“The incident shows how non-transparent this industry is. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform and its local members now expect that the police investigates this case properly. We demand rightful punishment of those responsible for the blood shed,” said Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association.

Sumon’s death is just one in a long line at the Kabir Steel yard, which had the highest recorded number of accidents among Bangladeshi shipbreakers during 2014, according to data from the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

On March 30 this year, cutter helper Mohammed Abdus Salam fell from a beached vessel at the Kabir yard, causing serious injuries including several fractures to his arms and legs. The Platform said the fall was due to a lack of adequate safety measures.

During 2014, at least two workers were killed and six more severely injured at the yard and its re-rolling mill in four different accidents. Another three workers suffered severe burns after an explosion on a oil tanker formerly owned by Teekay Corp.

“The sad accidents record is proof of the fact that Kabir Steel does not ensure safer working conditions, does not comply with proper safety procedures, uses untrained workers, lacks proper infrastructure to guarantee occupational health and safety and does not organise the legally binding Safety Committee at yard level,” commented Repon Chowdhury, executive director of Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation, a member of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.


Holly Birkett

Holly is Splash's Online Editor and correspondent for the UK and Mediterranean. She has been a maritime journalist since 2010, and has written for and edited several trade publications. She is currently studying for membership of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. In 2013, Holly won the Seahorse Club's Social Media Journalist of the Year award. She is currently based in London.
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