The tuk-tuk (motorised rickshaw) buzzed down the main street of Chittagong, Bangladesh, with the animated ship’s agent tucked in beside me, hands in the air and talking like a used car salesmen keen for me to buy.
I had dreamed about this trip, and here I was, on a special mission for the company who had employed me to go to this most famous place where ships go to die and I was to pick through some of the specialist parts for our fleet.
Anything we could want was going to be here. As a marine engineer, I was like a kid in a candy store yet confused as to where to start to devour what was on offer.
Chittagong is a mammoth wrecking yard for ship spare parts.
This is the biggest vessel graveyard in the world and yet, just like a hospital that carries out organ donations, it is one of the biggest spare parts centres that keeps the rest of the world’s fleet sailing.
This was no simple jaunt out to the bay to watch the hundreds of ship recyclers at work on the aged and purposely beached ships, manually pulling the vessels apart with the aid of an onshore winch (with the scene putting the picture of honey-soaked bread slowly being demolished into parts by ants carried away).
This journey was like driving down a giant supermarket aisle that went on for kilometres, as every spare piece of road was solidly packed with ship’s toilets, anchors, auxiliary engines, pipes and steel, cables and cupboards.
A small creek of water, dribbling from the Karnaphuli River, carried the weight of hundreds of tenders (small service boats) that spilled onto the banks like a pod of orange beached whales.
The nearby township of PaarTuri was a hive of shipping part shops with locals crouched over a recently recycled ship part, polishing it up and getting it ready for sale.
I was fortunate enough to visit Chittagong a few more times in the following years and each time, I was amazed at how every part of a ship can be utilised, re-engineered and sent back to sea.
Alternatively, it is turned into a new vessel in a bay, right next to the area where the ships are destroyed. However, it’s not only amazing memories and photographs that are left behind from such a journey.
Ship scrapping activities pollute the seawater environment in the coastal area, with Bangladesh particularly affected.
It leaves behind an enormous amount of discharge into the marine environment including asbestos, heavy metals, oils, metal fragments and chemicals.
Shipbreaking activities contaminate the coastal soil and sea water environment through the discharge of ammonia, burned oil spillage, floatable grease balls, metal rust (iron) and various other disposable refuse materials together with high turbidity of sea water.
It’s a killer soup. In 2009, to improve ship recycling conditions, the Hong Kong Convention was adopted by the International Maritime Organization and corresponding guidelines followed. However, the convention has been ratified by only three countries.
In 2014, the ship recycling debate was reinvigorated by the European Union drafting new requirements for ship recycling facilities.
These will enter into force in the coming years.
Last year, out of a total of 1026 ships dismantled globally in 2014, 74 per cent of the gross tonnage – or some 641 vessels – were sold to ‘sub-standard facilities’ in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR US IN FIJI AND OUR PRISTINE WATERS?
Next week, a team of visiting Korean students will undergo a course through Fiji Maritime Academy (FMA) to take home a better understanding of Marine Environment Awareness.
The course is designed to introduce awareness of the maritime environment and examine the present day to threats to the oceans and marine life.
The focus is to discuss the human element that contributes to pollution especially in world shipping and look at the measures taken to safeguard the precious marine environment.
What of places like Chittagong, Bangladesh? While the industry is concerned about Green Peace and other environmentalist groups forcing change it hasn’t happened yet and hundreds of thousands of people are reliant on that industry for their livelihood.
It’s a tough ethical situation and one that our young seafarers will be forced to confront as they continue to travel the oceans, faced with the harsh realities of how fragile our seas and oceans are yet needing to balance the human element and its need economic needs.
Source: Fiji Sun. 29 July 2015