|(NGO Shipbreaking Platform, Chittagong yards, 2014)|
Whilst NGOs and international trade unions have called upon the police to impartially investigate the circumstances of the recent shooting episode at Kabir Steel, it is no secret that the Chittagong-based firm, which runs shipbreaking yards at two different plots as well as a local steel re-rolling mill, has a particularly bad accident record. In January 2014, three workers suffered severe burn injuries in an explosion on a tanker beached at the yard. Only after Platform members took up their case did the men receive treatment and support. The case received both local and international media attention, and the CEO of the Norwegian ship owner Teekay Corporation, whose vessel was involved in the incident, publicly stated that the company will stop selling ships to substandard yards. Early in 2014, two more workers, Jafar and Lipton, were injured and taken to hospital. In August 2014, worker Afzal died in the hospital after an accident at Kabir, and a second, unidentified man suffered injuries. In September 2014, 20 year old Asad Mia was killed at Kabir’s re-rolling mill to which the scrap steel is taken.
The London-headquartered Standard Chartered bank has, according to local informants, been issuing letters of credit or loans to Kabir Steel for the import of end-of-life vessels. The Platform has sent a letter to Standard Chartered’s management asking why the bank is working with a yard that clearly operates in breach of Standard Chartered’s own ship recycling policy: according to this policy the bank will only work with yards that meet international workers’ rights and environmental protection standards.
“None of the shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh operate in line with international standards for the environmentally sound management of hazardous waste as there are no waste treatment facilities available. Occupational health and safety measures are absent or inadequate as accidents regularly show. Most workers do not receive a living wage and any protest against the conditions can easily lead to losing one’s job,” says Patrizia Heidegger, Executive Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform “We do not believe that a bank such as Standard Chartered should be associated to such practices ”.
Leading banks, amongst them ABN AMRO, are cooperating with companies to invest in sustainable ship recycling in industrial platforms.
Also major European shipping companies are linked to the dangerous and dirty shipbreaking practices at Kabir Steel. The end-of life vessels currently being scrapped on the beach of Kabir Steel shipbreaking are the ALPHA FRIENDSHIP and the MINERAL WATER. The ALPHA FRIENDSHIP’s was sold to Kabir Steel for scrapping by Greek Kanellakis Group with the help of cash buyer Wirana. The ship owner is part of a group of shipping companies controlled by the influential Kanellakis and Angelicoussis family. The vessel arrived in Bangladesh this January while still registered under the Greek flag.
“The EU Ship Recycling Regulation sets high standards for ship recycling, and once it becomes applicable end-of-life sales like this will constitute a clear breach of European law”, says Ingvild Jenssen, Policy Director of the Platform, “Greek owners top the list of worst end-of-life ship dumpers. It is high time that the Greek Government holds its shipping industry accountable for practices that put peoples’ lives and the environment in danger”.
The MINERAL WATER was sold to Kabir Steel by Belgian ship owner CMB N.V. S.A. and its wholly-owned Belgian subsidiary Bocimar International with the help of cash buyer Western Overseas. CMB is an Antwerp-based company specialised in bulk carriers. It is controlled by the well-known Saverys family who also holds major stakes in other leading Belgian ship-owning companies, Exmar, Euronav and Delphis. The MINERAL WATER swapped its Belgian flag to that of Niue just weeks before hitting the beach in Chittagong mid-February. Niue, a Pacific island with around 2000 inhabitants, is on the European Union’s blacklist of the world’s 30 worst-offending tax havens and has recently come up as a new low-cost flag of convenience for end-of-life vessels.
“The example of the CMB vessel shows how easy it is for ship owners to circumvent any regulation based on flag state jurisdiction”, argues Jenssen, “flag of convenience states such as Niue are not likely to strictly enforce or even ratify international law. The real ship-owning nations such as Belgium cannot continue to rely on tax havens and substandard shipbreaking countries to ensure sustainable ship recycling. At the European level a financial incentive to ensure better practices is being discussed – Belgium and other Member States should support this”.
The Platform is calling upon the European Union, where more than 40% of the world fleet is controlled, to ensure that ship owners cannot further exploit underpaid workers exposed to extremely dangerous working conditions and the absence of properly enforced environmental protection standards.