The Ministry of Industries has put an embargo on the import of J Nat – a highly toxic ship supposed to reach from Indonesia to Bangladesh on May 7 for scrapping – after international media reported on the matter.
Experts think illegal import of the ship would pose a health hazard to the workers and damage the environment.
A letter signed by the deputy secretary of industries ministry Md Abul Khayer says J Nat, formerly known as FSO Jesslyn Natuna, is a toxic ship which was headed towards Bangladesh from Indonesia with a huge amount of toxic material.
Under this circumstance, all members of the Bangladesh Ship Breakers and Recyclers Association (BSBRA) have been asked to remain alert, the letter reads.
Md Zahirul Islam, managing director of PHP Ship Breaking & Recycling Industries Limited and executive member of the BSBRA, said, "We came to know about the purchase of the ship 10-12 days ago and asked all the members not to purchase it. The industries ministry has also directed against the purchase. Purchasing this type of ship will tarnish the image of the country."
Every year, Bangladesh imports ships worth 30 lakh tonnes in scraps, he said, adding, "It would not be wise to import this 15,000-tonne-ship. In the past, many faced losses after buying this type of ship."
According to a report published by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, J Nat is an out of date ship which offshore oil and gas organisations used for storing oil.
The ship was built in Japan in 1982 and owned by Indonesian company Global Niaga Bersama PT till August 2019. It was recently sold to Somap International – a worldwide recognised organisation for scrapped ship trade – and its name was changed to J Nat.
J Nat left Indonesia on April 18.
Local ship workers later informed the Indonesian government about the toxic materials in the ship – more than 1,500 tonnes of toxic material, including 1,000 tonnes of slope oil, 500 tonnes of oily water, and 60 tonnes of sludge oil.
A lab test of the sludge sample revealed 395 kilograms of mercury, and the ship may contain high-intensity mercury and ballast water.
Regarding the ship, Shipbreaking Platform, Basel Action Network, European Environment Burau, International Pollutants Elimination Network, Nexus3Foundation, and Zero Mercury Working Group have warned Bangladesh about international laws for waste management.
Attempts to bring toxic ships in the past
In the past, Bangladesh was a destination for many toxic ships. However, those were stopped after reports on the media. According to the prevailing laws in Bangladesh, import of this type of ships is illegal.
On August 2016, Janata Steel Corporation imported a ship named MT Producer from Danish ship company Marcos for scrapping. After the media reported against it, the government formed a high-level probe team that found high-intensity radioactive material on the vessel.
On June 2017, the High Court issued a writ against MT Producer for importing and scrapping the ship, violating the existing local laws. Till date, the ship remains abandoned in the yard after some parts of it were cut.
Besides, many toxic ships like the SS Norway, MT Alfa and MT Apsheron headed for Bangladesh in the past, but they stopped after complaints from many sectors.
Laws for importing toxic ships
"As a signatory of the Basel Convention, which does not approve the import toxic ships, Bangladesh cannot import this type of ship. Importing this type of ship is a violation of international law," said Mohammad Ali Shahin, coordinator of non-profit Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), which deals with shipyard labourers.
As per the Basel Convention, any ship that violates the norms of the environment department will not be approved for import and breaking in the yard. The department of the environment must have detailed information regarding the waste materials in the ship before approval.
Actions should be taken for importing ships from countries with "grey" and "black" flag to stop flag changing of a ship and ensure correct information about waste materials.
The prevailing laws in the country and the Basel Convention must be ensured in this regard.
Importing toxic ships is contrary to the international law too.