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Shipyard Murder

September 22, 2009  |  Share

Two Workers Burned to Death and Three Severely Burned At the Kabir Shipbreaking Yard on September 5, 2009


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Original Report: Where Ships and Workers Go to Die, September 15, 2009

Bangladesh Shipbreaking Campaign


No one had to die. No one had to suffer horrific burns. On the morning of September 5, the workers knew it was too dangerous and begged management not to do it. Just two weeks earlier, a fire had broken out on the same ship under the same circumstances, but luckily everyone escaped. On Saturday morning, September 5, the workers were not so lucky.

Management at the Kabir Shipbreaking Yard ordered the "fitter" men, who work at the bottom of the ship, to break up asbestos, unbolt and take apart dozens of pipelines and gas and oil tanks. The work is dangerous, since residual gas and oil leak and form pools on the floor, and pockets of gas vapors build up.

A crew of "cutter men" who use blowtorches to cut the ship to pieces were then ordered to work on the next level of the ship, directly above the fitters. Everyone knew this was too dangerous. Cutting apart the metal, the workers knew sparks could fall to the lower level, which would set off an explosion and trap the fitters who were below.

The foreman would not listen to the cutters and ordered them to stay exactly where they were. They could have easily moved to another part of the ship to work, which would have prevented the deaths, but the foreman refused.

Mr. Kuddus (32)


← Mr. Kuddus (32)

It is common practice for the shipyard owners to use water to flush out the pipes and tanks, washing the oil, fuel, gas residues and other flammable chemicals out to sea. (Miles of beach, ocean, fish and plant life have been destroyed, not to mention many fishing villages.)To save money, Kabir management did not do this. They nonchalantly decided to gamble with the lives of the workers.

One worker told us, "I was cutting an iron plate on the upper level of the ship using my blowtorch. The fitters were below us at the bottom of the ship. The fire started slowly, but within seconds flames spread over the whole area... We knew it was dangerous, but the foreman told us where to work, and we were obligated to listen as the foremen are our boss and captain. We have to abide by their commands."



Mr. Ashek (20) who died on September 14


Another worker told us the same thing: "There are many combustible sources, like gas, oil, fuel. It is very risky work at these bottom chambers. We told the foreman this several times, but he refused to listen and told us to get back to work exactly where he placed us."

A tanker ship is divided into numerous chambers or tanks. Five fitters were assigned to each chamber and told to take apart the pipes and gas tanks. When the sparks from the cutters' blowtorches fell to the lower chamber, a flash fire exploded. The trapped workers tried to climb up a metal ladder to escape, but the flames were too great and they fell back to the bottom of the tank. They were engulfed in an inferno.

"The man who died [Mr. Hossain], a worker told us, "he finally got out of the ship, his clothes were burned off, he was naked and his skin was charred. When I touched the skin on his hand, the skin came off sticking to my finger. I could see that some skin and flesh had been torn from his body. We laid him on the deck."

A worker spoke of his relative, 28-year-old Mr. Jahangir: "His face was burned so badly, it was difficult to recognize him. His head was swollen and his face disfigured... Also his hands, legs, everything was burnt... The suffering of these workers cannot be explained. The condition of their face, chest, hands and legs are terribly frightening... Even if they live, it will be impossible for them to be seen in public, as people will be afraid when they see their faces."

Despite the fact that there are 30,000 workers toiling around the clock in some 36 shipbreaking yards, and despite the fact that serious injuries occur every day, with an average of one worker killed every three weeks, the owners collectively have not purchased even one ambulance to be stationed at the yards. They refuse to spend the money. It took 1 ½ hours for an ambulance to reach the burned workers.

To save money, the shipyard owner sent the five burned workers to a government hospital which is mostly free, instead of to a private hospital, where they could have been placed in a special burn unit and received more specialized care. But in management's mind, the workers are not worth the extra money.

Mr. Hossain, 35 years old, died 14 hours later. Workers told us his eyes were burned. He could not breathe through his nose. He desperately wanted to drink water, but he could not. At the end, he could not breathe through his mouth and he died in a co-worker's arms.

Twenty-year-old Mr. Ashek lingered for nine days in extreme pain before dying on September 14.



← Mr. Khokon (22)



The three surviving workers, 22-year-old Mr. Khokon, 28-yearold Mr. Jahangir and 32-year-old Mr. Kuddus will have to remain hospitalized for at least six months. No one thinks they will ever recover enough to work again or lead a normal life.

Even as the deadly fire raged, the foreman ordered the fitters in nearby chambers to keep working. After the deadly explosion at the Kabir Shipbreaking Yard on September 5, there have still not been any training exercises or safety discussions with the workers as to how to prevent or respond to such tragic fires. The day after the killings, the workers were ordered back to work as if nothing had happened. No safety improvements- not a single one-have been instituted.


Mr. Hossain who died on September 5


The workers told us, "We need insulated work suits and gloves, hard hats, boots and goggles... Sometimes sparks from the [blowtorch] flame and gas hurt our eyes, but the necessary equipment is not supplied to us. Inside the chambers, there are gas and fumes, but we work without respirators to cover our nose and mouth. We explained this many times to management, but the shipyard managers completely ignore these basic safety measures. If a worker tries to make his voice heard regarding these issues, he loses his job. This is the rule here."

If the shipyard owners have their way, nothing will change, and workers will continue to be needlessly injured, maimed and killed as the bottom-line profits of the owners grow.

The owner and foreman at the Kabir Shipyard should be charged with murder.

The G-20 leaders, whose nations dominate global shipping, must finally speak up to stop the carnage in the shipbreaking yards and to guarantee that Bangladesh's local labor laws as well as internationally recognized worker rights standards are finally respected. The workers have been<br />waiting and suffering for 30 long years. Now is not the time for excuses, it is the time to act.


Mr. Jahangir (28)

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