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 secondhand 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.