Of Building & Breaking: Bangladesh’s Shipyards


Bangladesh has become famous for both – shipbuilding and shipbreaking. While the first has become a major promising industry in recent years, the latter has drawn international attention on the country’s risky working conditions, environmental pollution and the adoption of child labor.  Changes occured but are far from international standards.

michaelbiach_youngatwork-12Area at the ship-breaking yards in Sitakund, near Chittagong. Piece by piece ships are dismantled. Workers face tough conditions, extreme hard labor, fatal working incidents, the exposure of asbestos and toxic waste are among the deadly threats. 

Shipbreaking is known as the breaking or recirculation of old ships for financial return. Old ships are sold so that the valuable steel can be reused. About 95 percent of a ship’s mass can be recycled. Until the 1960s, ship-breaking was concentrated in western countries like the United States, Germany, United Kingdom or Italy. From the early 1980s, the majority of the world’s vessels taken out of service were sent to India, China, Pakistan or Bangladesh. The workers at the ship-breaking yards in Sitakund, situated north of Chittagong in the Bay of Bengal, face the toughest working conditions of the whole country. Extremely hard labour, fatal working incidents, the exposure of abestos and toxic waste are among the deadly threats to those working in the ship-dismantling industry. Every step could be their last. Far away from their villages, the workers seldom see their families. They do all of this for only $1-3 per day.


2012_Bangladesh-1.jpgAn ocean vessel at the ship-breaking yards of Sitakund, Bangladesh waiting to be dismantled by the workers.

There are around 100 ship-building yards in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, situated next to the river Buriganga. The yards are mostly serving the domestic market but are now also exporting ships for western markets.

2012_bangladesh-5449An old man is standing for a portrait in Dhaka’s ship-building yards.

2012_bangladesh-54882012_bangladesh-54522012_bangladesh-5478Workers rest in Dhaka’s ship-building yards.

2012_bangladesh-7Ocean vessels, ready to be dismantled by Bangladeshi and migrant workers, are stranded at the muddy beaches of Sitakund, Bangladesh along with old life boats. The vessels are dismantled by the workers within six months.

2012_bangladesh-4Barrels with oil are standing next an ocean vessel on the muddy beach of Sitakund Bangladehs. The vessel will be dismantled by workers within six months. Safety and environment regulations are mostly ignored.

2012_bangladesh-2Life boats of dismantled ocean vessels cover the muddy beaches of Sitakund, Bangladesh after everything else of the ship has been cut off and sold.

2012_bangladesh-5771Old vessels are being rebuild in Dhaka’s ship-building yards.

2012_bangladesh-5428Young workers in Dhaka’s ship-building yards.

2012_bangladesh-13An injured employee at the ship-breaking yards. Extremely hard labour, fatal working incidents, the exposure of abestos and toxic waste are among the deadly threats.

2012_bangladesh-3A worker at Bangladesh’s ship-breaking yards in Sitakund ist standing next to a big ocean vessel.

2012_bangladesh-57672012_bangladesh-54382012_bangladesh-5797Kids playing in Dhaka’s ship-building yards.