Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ship Breakers

The road south from Cox's Beach is piled high with odd junk, commodes in one place, orange lifeboats in another. This is all the bounty of ship breaking, the opposite of ship building.
Bangladesh is now the leading purveyor of this dangerous trade in the world. When the Baltimore Sun came out with a Pulitzer Prize winning story in the late 1990s on workers killed and maimed while working for minuscule wage stripping old ships from around the world for scrap and fixtures, India led the world. Bangladesh's low pay and the vagaries of the Bay of Bengal off its shore that allows workers to get ships much closer to shore (where they are easier and hence cheaper to work on) gave it a competitive edge.
The Sun story resulted in the US Navy halting the shipment of its old vessels to the Indian subcontinent. I don't know what the situation is today. Shipbreaking remains difficult, highly dangerous work and it's horrible for the environment because of the materials and gases released by the process. But Bangladesh is happy for the work. It provides some money for its impoverished population and it turns out scads of scrap metal needed for the massive construction going on in Dhaka.
Now this is troubling because scrap steel is 20 percent cheaper than virgin steel, but it's surprisingly just not as good. That means all those gigantic structures going up in the capital are just a little more vulnerable to faults and collapse than I like high rises to be.

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