MAC: Mines and Communities

Infamous Poison Ship is on its way to Bangladesh

Published by MAC on 2011-05-30
Source: FIDH, Shipbreaking Platform

Asbestos and other toxics threaten children's lives

Last week MAC published an article highlighting the appalling conditions under which child labourers are compelled to work in the coal fields of Jharkhand, India. See: Reclaiming childhood from the pits of Jharkhand

However, the exploitation of other South Asian young people, in one of the most hazardous other "industries" on earth, is rarely highlighted.

Yet Bangladeshi boys and young men, engaged in the stripping of toxic materials (including asbestos) from decommissioned ships are working under no less a sentence of lingering death.

The notorious "Probo Koala" ocean-going vessel was rented by Trafigura Beheer (the Dutch associate of the world's second biggest non-ferrous metals trader) to dump poisonous wastes on the shores of Ivory Coast in 2006.

At least 15 Ivoriens died as a consequence of this illegal act; 100,000 people sought medical attention; and Trafigura Beheer was fined 1 million euros in damages by a Dutch court in summer 2010. See: Trafigura found guilty in toxic waste dumping tragedy

Now, renamed  the "Gulf Jash", this same boat is destined for Bangladesh to be scrapped, in large part by children, at the notorious breaking yards at the southern Bangladesh port of Chittagong.

That is - unless a similar outcry forces the Bangladesh government to ban the vessel from entering its waters.

For a graphic report on the abuse of children's labour in ship-breaking in Chittaong, see the report: "Childbreaking yards : Childlabour in the ship recycling industry in Bangladesh"

Summary (in French)

Complete report (in English)

Editorial note: Trafigura is a Swiss-headquartered oil and metals trading company, the extent of whose operations is probably comparable only to those of Glencore. (Indeed, it was established by two former employees of Glencore). 

Trafigura has offices in many countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, DR Congo and the UK. Its minerals-related fund, Galena, operates out of London, UK.

The company not only arranges the transfer of metals from its store houses to customers, but (like Glencore) operates, or has stakes in, several mines - notably with ownership of the Catalina Huanca lead-silver-zinc mine and Iberian Mines in Peru [Marketwire 20 October 2009] as well as a project in Spain and another in Morocco.

It was with Trafigura Beheer that, in August 2009, Anvil Mining secured a provisional deal that would see the Australian company advance construction of the second phase of its major Kinsevere copper mine in Katanga province, DR Congo [Northern Miner, 11 August 2009].


Infamous Probo Koala Sent for Dismantling

NGOs call on Bangladesh: Stop Death Ship Before it Kills Again

FIDH Press release

24 May 2011

Brussels - The Probo Koala, now re-named the Gulf Jash, a ship which caused an environmental and human rights disaster in the Ivory Coast in August 2006, has been sold for scrapping on the infamous ship breaking beaches of Chittagong in Bangladesh.

Workers at Probo Koala
Using metal sheets for beds, workers of the ship breaking yards
sleep in crowded huts with no toilets. Chittagong, Bangladesh.
August 11, 2008.
Photo Credit: Shahidul Alam/Drik/MW/Dagbladet

Environmental, human rights and labour rights organisations represented by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform fear that the Probo Koala will be allowed to perpetuate its deadly legacy by being broken down in unsafe and environmentally damaging conditions. The NGOs call on the government of Bangladesh to refuse the import of the death ship and say no to illegal toxic waste trade. It is expected that the Probo Koala contains many tonnes of hazardous asbestos, PCBs, toxic paints, fuel and chemical residues. Currently the ship is located in Vietnam.

In 2006, the transnational company Trafigura used the Probo Koala to illegally dump 528 tonnes of toxic waste in Abidjan, the largest city of the Ivory Coast, causing the death of 16 people according to the Ivorian authorities. Global Marketing Systems (GMS), a US company specialised in the brokering of vessels for demolition, confirmed it had bought the ship last week, but had so far not disclosed its final destination.

However its website listed that one of the advantages of utilising Bangladesh as a destination for end-of-life vessels is the lack of requirements for testing for gas residues within the ship. These gases might ignite and explode when a shipbreaking worker uses a cutting torch.

"The Probo Koala already is a symbol of an unaccountable and irresponsible shipping industry," said Bangladeshi lawyer and director of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), Rizwana Hasan. "We demand that this ship and all others like her, carrying toxic substances and intent on exploiting yet again the population and environment in the developing world, be barred from entry into Bangladesh."

Shipbreaking as is done on the beaches of South Asia is one of the world's most dangerous and polluting enterprises. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform has, through its member organisation BELA, successfully petitioned in the Bangladeshi courts to stop the import of toxic ships for breaking, and safer methods of breaking ships already exist today. However, due to intense political and economic pressure from the shipbreaking and shipping industry, the court ruling has temporarily been lifted pending further decisions.

Unless and until the High Court decision is allowed to stand, toxic ships will continue to pile up on the beaches of Bangladesh where they are broken apart by hand exposing workers to explosions and occupational disease, while contaminating the coastal environment.

"A ship that was used to generate, and then dump toxic waste in a developing country is now aiming to do the same all in the name of ship recycling" said Ingvild Jenssen, Director of the Platform."While victims of the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast are still awaiting effective justice and fair reparation for their harm, we must stop this ship before it causes more casualties.

If the Bangladeshi authorities do not stop the vessel from entering its territorial waters, the ship will be allowed to perpetuate its deadly legacy by being broken down in unsafe and environmentally damaging conditions. Toxic ships should be dismantled in green recycling facilities where workers and the environment are protected from exposure to toxic waste.

-- END --

For more information on the Probo Koala and the Ivory Coast case: click here (in French)

Press contacts:

Karine Appy - FIDH : +33 1 43 55 14 12 / +33 6 48 05 91 57
Arthur Manet - FIDH : +33 1 43 55 90 19 / +33 6 72 28 42 94
Ingvild Jenssen -- Director NGO Shipbreaking Platform : +32 (0)485 190 920

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