Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard

November 3, 2012 Bangladesh 4 Comments 9,541 Views

The Ship Breaking Yard In Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Since we’ve seen a movie a few years ago, called “Workingman’s Death“, which is a documentary about working conditions in the 21st century, made by the Austrian movie director Michael Glawogger,  we wanted to see these ship breaking yards in Chittagong, Bangladesh. This is the place where huge tankers, cruise ships and freighters are dismantled, recycled and disappear after a while thanks to many many brave and tough committed workers. The working conditions in this part of the world are not to be questioned or checked by whomever.

So as said, we wanted to see the facilities in Chittagong for ourselves. Of course we were warned that access will most probably not be possible, yet nothing could keep us from going. After some asking around and checking out the area, we simply decided to just go on a field trip and have a look. We came across and autorikshaw driver who was eager to bring us to the area where ship breaking takes place.

How did it all start?
  • Research through the internet taught us, that the beginning of the ship breaking industry in Bangladesh came by “accident”. After a severe cyclone in 1960, a Greek ship was stranded on the beach of Chittagong and could not be re-floated for some years. Then it was scrapped and this was the birth of the Bangladesh ship breaking industry – which is the second largest in the world.

From Chittagong you have to head North. It’s quite a dusty trip because the road is under construction, so we were already exhausted when arriving in Fauzdharat. Anyway, the autorikshaw driver knew where we wanted to go and after some asking he turned left into a little path towards the beach. At the end was a big wall and that was it … so we got out and told him to wait. We walked a while and came to a river mouth where many lifesaving boats were “anchored” – obviously an interim storage place. The river mouth turned out to be the perfect way to get closer to the ships and the action.

But getting close to the ships was not as easy as expected … it was all very slippery, with deep mud. We only tried to protect our cameras, everything else looked very dirty after the first five minutes walking towards the beach anyway. Right and left were huge tankers ashore, which were already partly dismantled and you could hear the noise of cutting wheels. We walked further towards the beach – always checking the ground because we didn’t want to stumble into a mud hole (it happened anyway, but not too bad). All over sudden we were spotted by a bunch of children who came running towards us, jumping up and down in front of our cameras. They loved it and so we forgot a bit about our plan to check out the ships for a little while.

The way down the waters edge turned out to be pretty far. We walked for about half an hour while being accompanied by screaming children. An adult fisherman came along and tried to get the kids under control but he had no chance. So we made the best out of it and took lots of photos with them and the ships.

In between all the ship breaking yard were little villages where the workers live. Their kids already grow up near the ships and start working there either as fishermen or steel workers. The entire ship breaking yard area is so extensive that it’s no wonder the workers started settling near by.

The fascinating thing is that everything is being recycled. There are tons of second-hand dealers along the main road, where you’ll find anything that was ever used on a ship: water tanks, washing machines, toilets, compasses, telephones, life vests … you name it, you will find it in one of these scrap shops. It would be the perfect place to furnish an apartment, office or restaurant. We were tempted on buying a Russian wall clock but decided against it in the end. It was simply to heavy and we still had five weeks more of travelling ahead.

Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard, located in Bangladesh, is the world's second-largest ship breaking area (after the Alang ship breaking yard).
The Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard, is the world’s second-largest ship breaking area (after the Alang ship breaking yard).
Yet the Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard is the world's largest ship-breaking industry, employs over 200.000 Bangladeshis and accounts for half of all the steel in Bangladesh.
Yet the Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard is the world’s largest ship-breaking industry, employs over 200.000 Bangladeshis and accounts for half of all the steel in Bangladesh.
Ship breaking allows materials from the ship, especially steel, to be recycled. Equipment on board the vessel can also be reused.
Ship breaking allows materials from the ship, especially steel, to be recycled. Equipment on board the vessel can also be reused.
Ships are typically disassembled on gently sloping sandy beaches, where vessels to be broken are beached, usually deliberately, although the sizable ship breaking industry of Bangladesh traces its origin to a ship beached accidentally there during a cyclone.
Ships are typically disassembled on gently sloping sandy beaches, where vessels to be broken are beached, usually deliberately, although the sizable ship breaking industry of Bangladesh traces its origin to a ship beached accidentally there during a cyclone.
Manoeuvring a large ship onto a beach at high speed takes skill and daring, and is not always successful.
Manoeuvring a large ship onto a beach at high speed takes skill and daring, and is not always successful.
Most ships have a lifespan of a few decades before there is so much wear that refitting and repair become uneconomical.
Most ships have a lifespan of a few decades before there is so much wear that refitting and repair become uneconomical.
The Ship Breaking Yard in Chittagong, Bangladesh.
The Ship Breaking Yard in Chittagong, Bangladesh.
At one stage the Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard was a tourist attraction, but outsiders are no longer welcome due to its poor safety record; a local watchdog group claims that one worker dies a week on average.
At one stage the Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard was a tourist attraction, but outsiders are no longer welcome due to its poor safety record; a local watchdog group claims that one worker dies a week on average.
In recent years, ship breaking has become an issue of environmental concern beyond the health of the yard workers. Many ship breaking yards operate in developing nations with lax or no environmental law, enabling large quantities of highly toxic materials to escape into the general environment and causing serious health problems among ship breakers.
In recent years, ship breaking has become an issue of environmental concern beyond the health of the yard workers. Many ship breaking yards operate in developing nations with lax or no environmental law, enabling large quantities of highly toxic materials to escape into the general environment and causing serious health problems among ship breakers.
Kids playing in between the Ship Breaking Yard in Chittagong, Bangladesh.
Kids playing football between the Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard.
The shops in Chittagong are full of recycled ship materials.
The shops in Chittagong are full of recycled cruise materials.
Protective equipment is sometimes absent or inadequate. Dangerous vapors and fumes from burning materials can be inhaled, and dusty asbestos-laden areas are commonplace.
Protective equipment is sometimes absent or inadequate. Dangerous vapors and fumes from burning materials can be inhaled, and dusty asbestos-laden areas are commonplace.
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4 Comments

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“The Ship Breaking Yard In Chittagong, Bangladesh.”

  1. Interesting write up and captures. Tough and dangerous work….great piece of photo-journalism.

  2. Nisa

    Thanks a lot Kurt! It really was one of the most impressive sights we have ever seen. We’ll hopefully be able to return again some day…

  3. Afzal

    It feels so good to read something about my country. I didn’t even know that it is world’s second largest SHIP BREAKING YARD. Hope you guys enjoyed visiting here. You will be surprised seeing that how greatly you are welcomed here by our people. People are so simple here, come again and enjoy more.

  4. Nisa

    Hi Afzal!
    Yeah, the Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard is quite an experience. Unfortunately you’re not alone to get as close as some years ago, but it’s still an impressive sight.
    We absolutely love Bangladesh! The people are so friendly, it’s almost unreal. We’ve never had any kind of trouble – even as women travelling alone. We’ve visited twice now and we will come back again for sure.
    All the best,
    Nisa

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