With a view to tapping the potentials of shipbreaking industry in the wake of rising demand for steel in Bangladesh, the government has planned to set up an environment-friendly shipbreaking zone at Barguna's Taltali coastal area.
The Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation, along with its two private partners – South Korea's Zentech Engineering and Bangladesh's Turbo Machinery Service – has undertaken a feasibility study in the area for the purpose.
The draft study report estimated the project cost to be Tk1,200 crore to Tk1,300 crore, said Md Saidur Rahman, the general manager of the corporation and also the project director, adding they will formulate a project proposal after finalising the report with a reduced budget.
One-hundred and five acres of land has been earmarked for the site where around 16 large ships can be recycled without posing any risk to the environment, he also said.
The zone will be set up three kilometres into the coastal area along the estuary of the Payra River which is navigable enough for ships weighing as much as one lakh to 1.75 lakh deadweight tonnes.
Bangladesh already has a shipbreaking industrial zone at Sitakunda in Chattogram that supplies around 35-40 percent of raw material for the steel industry across the country.
Despite being the largest of its kind in the world, the 20km Sitakunda Shipbreaking Industrial Zone stretching from Faujdarhat to Kumira of the upazila, is not able to fully cater for the demand.
It usually takes in ships weighing around 50 thousand deadweight tonnes but bigger vessels seldom navigate these areas because of a low navigability.
However, the shipbreaking industry is prone to human fatalities. The International Labour Organization considers shipbreaking as one of the most dangerous professions in the world.
On average, one accident takes place every day and one labourer dies every week while working in the industry in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, according to a survey of the Amsterdam-based Greenpeace, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and the Chattogram-based Young Power in Social Action.
But the casualty rate in the Taltali Shipbreaking Industrial Zone would be significantly low as modern technologies would be used here, asserted senior officials of the Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation.
The industrial zone will be set up complying with all national and international policies on working conditions to reduce the risk of human casualties, they also said.
Despite assurances about observing environment-friendly procedures, environmentalists expressed concerns about the proposed shipbreaking industrial zone.
Engineer Abdus Sobhan, the general secretary of the Poribesh Bachao Andolon, said a no objection certificate from the Department of Environment is a prerequisite for initiating this kind of projects.
Along with the certificate, an assessment should be done on all possible environmental damages and other risks likely to be caused by this kind of project, Engineer Sobhan said.
He further added the measures to counter all these possible risks should also be decided at the earliest, before starting the project.
At Sitakunda, there are more than 100 shipyards and more than two lakh people are employed here.
According to the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association, almost 300 imported ships, each weighing around 30 to 35 deadweight tonnes, are recycled every year in the shipbreaking site, producing around 25 to 30 lakh tonnes of raw materials for steel.
But the demand for steel in the domestic market is almost 70 lakh tonnes. This large gap between supply of and demand for steel results in a shortage of raw materials in the re-rolling mills industry and increasing dependence on import.
Against this backdrop, the proposed shipbreaking industrial zone in Barguna can significantly reduce the dependence on import of steel and other related raw materials. Furthermore, it will also generate employments for lots of people, the Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation officials said.