Bangladesh shipbreakers win right to sue UK owners

British shipping companies that sell old vessels to be scrapped cheaply in dangerous, low-paid conditions in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan may now be sued in London for workers’ deaths or injuries, according to The Guardian.

The court of appeal of England and Wales held that a shipping company in London selling a vessel in south Asia could owe a legal ‘duty of care’ to shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh, even when there are multiple third parties involved in the transaction.

The ruling may force Asian shipbreaking yards to improve working conditions.

An estimated 216 workers have died in the past 15 years at the shipbreaking yards of Chittagong, including seven so far this year.

Work there is known for being dangerous, but shipping companies have been able to avoid responsibility by changing ownership of vessels at the last minute, and using tax havens and middlemen, according to The Guardian.

London law firm Leigh Day contended that the shipping industry takes deliberate advantage of Bangladesh’s weak regulations. The result, it argued, is that wealthy shipowners get the highest prices for scrap vessels in the practical certainty that they will be broken up in Bangladesh where health and safety standards are lower than in more expensive but safer yards.

According to NGO Shipbreaking Platform, more than 70% of approximately 800 vessels that reach the end of their operating lives every year are broken up in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan.

Standard practice is that sales of end-of-life ships are not conducted directly between shipowners and shipbreakers themselves, but through demolition cash buyers who assume the credit risk, with the result that shipowners are distanced.

Read the full article in The Guardian, image courtesy of Sean Smith.

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