The Daily Star: Breaking Ships, Broken Hearts

In 2008, I published this story regarding my experience while visiting a ship breaking yard in Sitakunda, Bangladesh. While studying for my Masters degree, our Environmental Law course included a case study of the 2006 Trafigura Toxic Waste Dumping Case. For those of you who may not be familiar with the case, Trafigura Beheer BV, a Dutch-based shipping company, offloaded 500 tonnes of toxic waste from a ship named the Probo Koala at the port city of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast in 2006. The waste was then dumped by a local subcontractor in various locations throughout the city thus exposing thousands of people to its toxins. The toxic gas that was released from the waste resulted in burns to the lungs and skin as well as severe headaches and vomiting. Seventeen people died from the exposure and at least 30,000 were injured.

While researching the case, I realized that in 2011, Bangladesh came dangerously close to allowing the Probo Koala onto it shores for dismantling. Fortunately, the Government banned the ship from entering Bangladesh’s territorial waters largely due to strong protests from local and international NGOs. However, considering the flagrant disregard for worker health and safety that I observed in the ship breaking industry in Bangladesh, I cannot help but think about how close we may have come to a major health and environmental disaster.