Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Ship Breaking Yards

An hour and a half outside of Chittagong City lie the ship breaking yards. These yards are where massive shipping container boats go to be dismantled by hand. There has been some exposure in the Western media of the detrimental effects of the yards, their ship breaking practices and how the workers are treated so it is almost impossible to get full access to the yards. I was able to find an alternate entrance that wasn't guarded by men with AK-47's and angry glares. I started to follow the workers through the mud where they boarded a boat for the day of work in the sweltering heat. 

This is the captain of the little ship that takes the workers to the massive boats each morning. He invited me onboard to experience a morning of work with the ship breaking team.

More and more people piled into the boat. We took a short five minute ride until we reached The Intrepid, a gigantic ship that was slowly being demolishing by hand by this team of men. 

There was only one way onto this boat and that was by a flimsy ladder that dangled from rusted railings on the main deck of the ship. 

Each wielder is responsible for getting his own equipment up. Some choose to tie it to their waists, while others haul the containers up by ropes. 

As the last man approached the ladder, I asked if I could also join. The workers really wanted me to join them for the day, but the guard carrying the AK-47 at the top of the ladder thought that wouldn't be the best idea. So I got a chance to talk with the captain of the boat and he told me that the workers work from 8 in the morning till 5 pm and make 300 Taka, or about 4 dollars a day, a decent wage in Bangladesh. 

This picture was taken inside the actual ship breaking yard. It consisted of large parts of the ships that had already been removed from the main ship itself. The workers were overwhelmingly friendly, but the guards became aggressive and really didn't want any photographs taken. 

The main ship breaking yard. Decent photo considering it was taken at my stomach while I pointed in a different direction to distract the guard at the main office. 
Edward Burtynsky's film Manufactured Landscapes really inspired me to venture to Bangladesh and the ship breaking yards. He has some amazing shots on his website:

Since the main entrance of the yards was heavily guarded I found this passageway to reach the mud and make the trek to the ships. 

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