ISLAMABAD, Sept 15: South Asian countries must not allow their beaches to be used as dumping grounds for the chemically contaminated and extremely hazardous ships from the western countries.

The ship-breaking in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh has been causing serious environmentally-hazardous issues as the poor and the marganilsed people are forced to work in extremely unsafe conditions.

These views were expressed by the speakers at a special seminar titled, ‘Environmental and Social Issues of Ship-Breaking Industry’ organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Thursday.

The speakers said that ship-breaking yards needed to be monitored and equipped with proper environmental protection gadgets. They said that the asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and a range of heavy metals required to be managed properly at the ship-breaking yards.

The participants of the seminar expressed concern over the plight of the poor labourers working in extremely unsafe, unhygienic and exploitative environment and stressed the need for their welfare and provision of Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs).

Dr Aurangzaib Khan, Chief Environmentalist, Planning Commission of Pakistan, while chairing the proceedings, maintained that social and environmental aspects of the ship-breaking industry required serious considerations at policy level.

Speaking on the occasion, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Advocate Supreme Court of Bangladesh and Program Director, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) said that ship-breaking yards should be closed in the region as they were not environmentally safe, economically beneficial and socially productive.

She said: “Although ship-breaking industry fulfils 25 per cent iron requirements of the country and provides livelihood to 18,000 workers, but its environmental and social costs are unprecedented for Bangladesh.”

“Coastal fishing in Chitagong has almost finished, 14 species of fish have become extinct, thousands of acres of mangrove forests are chopped off and the whole area have become chemically polluted with irreparable damage to human health,” Ms Hasan said and added that the civil society organisations in Bangladesh had successfully campaigned against ship-breaking yards.

She said: “In this regard, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, in a landmark decision, directed the government to introduce regulations and allow only those ships for breaking in Bangladesh which are thoroughly purged by ship owners of all types of chemicals, pollutants, residues and contaminations.”

“As cleaning of ships is extremely costly, ship breaking became no more economically viable. So this decision put a temporary hold on the industry,” she said.

Ms Hassan criticised the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulations as they placed responsibility of clearing the ship of contaminations on the ship-breakers and not on the owners – which are incidentally western companies.

“Western countries are evading their responsibilities as they do not directly send ships to South Asia for dismantling. Instead, they send the ships to places like Monrovia, change flags and then sell them to the ship breaking sector in South Asia,” she said.

The speakers said that a clear message should be conveyed to all the stakeholders that local beaches were not the dumping grounds for the international contaminators and lives of the poor labourers were not cheap to play with.

It has been highlighted at the seminar that Pakistan is once again becoming a hub of unsafe ship-breaking activities as 107 ships were dismantled this year as compared to 7 ships last year.

The global ship breaking and recycling industry is located in South Asia, specifically in Bangladesh, India, China and Pakistan which account for 70–80 per cent of the international market for ship breaking of the ocean-going vessels.

This shift has been witnessed in 1980s when under global environmental order, several countries banned ship-breaking at their beaches. As a result, this industry shifted to the South Asia region.