Shipbreaking Explosion

In September 2009 several workers were killed and burnt when cutting up an old tanker that still had chemical residue.  The National Labor Committee (NLC)  has released a a ten minute video interview with the NLC Executive Director, Charles Kernaghan.

According to an 11 January 2010 NLC notice:

“Eight more workers in Bangladesh were burned to death on December 26, 2009, when the ship they were dismantling exploded.   The workers had been told that the gas tanks on the Agate oil tanker had been cleaned.   It was a lie.   When the workers started to cut into the tank using their blow torches, the sparks set off a massive explosion, engulfing them in flames, which burned out of control for several hours.   Along with the eight workers killed, more than a dozen suffered serious burns.”

A full report of the December explosion, with images, is available for download.

NLC is a non-nongovernmental organisation that campaigns on issues of workers’ rights around the world.

Shipbreaking first came to my attention with the showing of the documentary “Workingman’s Death” at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2005.  This film showed around five different and dangerous occupations around the world, including Bangladesh shipbreaking in the chapter, BROTHERS.  The film was confronting and beautiful and is an important film for all OHS professionals to view.

In a film review in SafetyATWORK magazine at the time, I wrote:

“BROTHERS is spectacular. I had heard about the Pakistan shipbreakers and we have reported on the high rate of a fatalities but to watch a super tanker being dismantled by hand using only oxyacetylene torches on glorious beaches is phenomenal.

It is in this chapter that I felt the lack of safety most. People are working at extreme heights. They are cutting from within the tanker and the noise was intolerable. They keep cutting until an entire slice of tanker falls, controlled only by ropes handled by men on the beach.

One industrious photographer is followed taking photos of workers for them to send back to their families. The curious thing is that each of the workers are photographed holding the fakest rifle that you have seen. But they hold it with pride and wide smiles. There is no explanation for the gun and it is left to our Western values to impose some meaning onto the images.

And it is this that has kept the film in my mind for weeks. I am a Westerner watching a film that is a depiction of working life in countries I have never visited. I am trying to interpret the reality through my Western eyes, and not just Western eyes by through my conceptions of workplace safety.

I need to see the film again so that I can eject my OHS experience and simply watch how others live.”

The full review is available for download.

Kevin Jones

1 thought on “Shipbreaking Explosion”

  1. Kevin, I am absolutely gob smacked, again another classic case of \”child labor\” and totally unacceptable Health and Safety practices, a very eye opening article.

    Respectfully, Paul Koyich, CET, HSE Advisor, Al Khor Community(pop.6000+), State of Qatar

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