Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 August 2020

Widow can sue tanker company over husband’s death in Bangladesh

Labourer died after falling from vessel working amid dangerous conditions in Bangladeshi ship-breaking yard

The ship-breaking yard in Chattogram, Bangladesh where workers face dangerous conditions. Studio Fasching
The ship-breaking yard in Chattogram, Bangladesh where workers face dangerous conditions. Studio Fasching

The widow of a Bangladeshi scrapyard worker who fell to his death while breaking up an oil tanker can sue the ship’s former owner, a British judge ruled on Monday.

Muhammad Khalil Mollah died in an accident in March 2018 while working 70-hour weeks for low pay and without protective equipment in the Zuma Enterprise Shipyard in Chattogram, Bangladesh.

His widow, Hamida Begum, is suing the former owner of the oil tanker Ekta in London for negligence because she claims they were responsible for sending the vessel to Bangladesh, where conditions were known to be “highly dangerous”.

Mr Justice Jay ruled that the former owner, Maran (UK), which sold the ship in a deal worth more than $16 million to a middleman for scrapping, arguably owed a duty of care to the worker. The company had argued for the case to be thrown out because they had sold the vessel and were not responsible for the death.

Solicitors for Ms Begum, who is in her mid-30s and has a young son, said that the ruling would “send shock waves around the shipping industry” that has sent thousands of vessels to South Asian beaches for breaking up.

The ship, formerly known as Maran Centaurus, was sold in a deal in August 2017 and soon after was deliberately run aground on a beach at Chattogram in Eastern Bangladesh to be broken up.

The International Labour Organisation says that there are “unacceptably high” numbers of deaths in the ship-breaking industry.

It said in 2015 that the average number of large ships scrapped each year worldwide is about 500 to 700, with 90 per cent of activity carried out in Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey.

“The shipping industry is renowned for its lack of transparency, especially when the dangers of ship-breaking are concerned,” said solicitor Alex Wessely, of UK law firm Leigh Day, which is representing Ms Begum on a no-win, no-fee basis.

“We are very pleased with this judgment, which we hope is a step towards creating proper accountability for when things go tragically wrong.”

The company can appeal against the ruling. Lawyers say a trial is not likely to take place until next year.

Updated: July 13, 2020 09:52 PM

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