Bangladesh will block an oil tanker from docking at its ports, an official said Friday, after authorities received information that the ship being towed toward its waters could be hauling toxic waste, including mercury.
Abul Khair, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Industries, which oversees ship recycling, told BenarNews the government made the decision against the Palau-flagged J. Nat after reading newspaper reports and learning about environmental concerns raised by NGOs.
“We contacted the ship recycling association and told them that this ship will not be allowed into Bangladesh,” Khair said. “Any toxic ship can never be allowed to enter into Bangladesh territorial waters.”
J. Nat, registered as a floating storage and offloading tanker, left Indonesian waters on April 18. The ship was expected to arrive in the Port of Chittagong on May 7, reports said.
The tanker operated in the Natuna gas field in Indonesia’s territorial waters before it was sold to a company involved in trading old ships that are dismantled in ship-breaking yards for their scrap value, environmental activists said, citing official documents.
J. Nat was carrying more than 1,500 tons of hazardous waste and 60 tons of sludge oil contaminated with mercury, among other harmful contaminants, they said. BenarNews could not independently verify such claims.
But Khair, the industries ministry official, said Bangladesh’s ship-breaking association bought old vessels through agents and were required to comply with conditions, including worker safety and environmental concerns.
Abu Taher, president of the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association, said he was aware of the government’s decision to prohibit the entry of J. Nat, which is being towed toward Chittagong.
“Following the government’s order for not importing the J. Nat, we talked to all of our members and asked them not to import it,” he told BenarNews.
The executive director of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association explained that the ship sailed for Bangladesh after Indonesia refused to allow it to anchor.
“[It] carries 1,500 tons of toxic substances including mercury, 60 tons of oil sludge, 1,000 tons of slop oil and 500 tons of oil water,” Syeda Rizwana Hasan of the lawyers association told BenarNews.
“We will send letters to the ministries of environment, industries, labor and commerce, urging them not to allow this ship to enter in Bangladesh coast,” she said.
Bangladesh, especially the port city of Chittagong, is one of the world’s largest sites for ship recycling. Nearly half of the world’s ship-breaking took place in Bangladesh, according to a 2018 report by UNCTAD, a United Nations body dealing with trade, investment and development issues.
Bangladesh scrapped ships weighing 8.6 million tons in 2018. India, in second place, demolished ships weighing 4.7 million tons during the same period, according to official figures.
Environmentalists have raised concerns because many old ships contain toxic substances including mercury and lead.
“The FSO J. NAT left Indonesian waters on April 18 even though local activists warned Indonesian authorities about the toxicity of the vessel,” Shipbreaking Platform, an NGO, said on its website.
It reported that lab results showed mercury levels of 395 mg/kg on a sludge sample, adding that the ship’s structures and ballast water also were likely to be contaminated with high amounts of mercury.
Symptoms of mercury poisoning include muscle weakness, impaired coordination, numbness in the hands and feet, skin rashes, anxiety and memory problems, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Drake Long in Washington contributed to this report.