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. 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 Platform is calling on the government of Bangladesh to refuse the import of the ship. 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 currently lists that one of the advantages of utilising Bangladesh as a destination for end-of-life tankers 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 NGOs fear that the ship will be allowed to perpetuate its deadly legacy by being broken down in unsafe and environmentally damaging conditions. According to the Platform, toxic ships should be dismantled in green recycling facilities where workers and the environment are protected from exposure to toxic waste.