Volume 76, Number 19 | September 27 - October 3, 2006

Villager photos by Q. Sakamaki

Dangerous last port of call

East Village photojournalist Q. Sakamaki was in Sitakunda, Chittangong, in Bangladesh, in July, where he documented the world’s largest manual shipbreaking industry. More than a quarter million people are directly or indirectly involved in Bangladeshi shipbreaking, which is under the control of powerful syndicates and produces 80 percent of that country’s steel. Most of the workers — some of whom can be seen on this page wearing bastketlike shells or using umbrellas to keep dry in the steady rain — barely earn the equivalent of $1.50 per day in U.S. dollars, while facing dangerous, toxic environments, including inhaling carbon dioxide and the threat of explosion. Greenpeace has led the fight to insure that so-called “end-of-life ships” are decontaminated before being sent for shipbreaking. Greenpeace calls end-of-life ships “the most significant stream of illegal waste exports from Europe to poorer countries in Asia, leaving them with a toxic waste and occupational health management burden violating the principles of human rights, environmental justice, ‘polluter pays’ and producer responsibility.” Shipbreaking yards worldwide have “extremely poor working and environmental conditions,” according to Greenpeace. Tankers and military vessels can contain hundreds, sometimes more than 1,000, tons of asbestos alone, as well as other toxins. Earlier this year, Greenpeace led successful fights to stop France from sending the decommissioned aircraft carrier Clemenceau to India for shipbreaking and also to keep the S.S. Norway from being sent to Bangladesh before being fully decontaminated.

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