Hell on earth (Visual installment 01)

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alexiuss's avatar
There are places on our planet, which literally resemble hell on earth... a place that you’d think was conceived by minds of apocalyptic science fiction writers… but is however quite real…

A place, closed off to the tourists, a place where no photographers are allowed to go… and those that do, get their cameras taken away and arrested by the police…..

Today we shall travel to Bangladesh, Chittagong.
Chittagong has a territory of 144 000 км² and population of 144 million people.
Several beaches around the area bear strange ships, parked in sand as seen from space:

zooming in a little closer:

What are we looking at?

This is a city of ShipBreakers.

Here are some photographs of it and the stories written by journalists and photographers that broke through the barriers and went there:

Along the southeast coast of Bangladesh are the ship breaking installations, where immense ocean freighters and tankers are torn apart by hundreds of gritty, lean, strong, bronze-skinned, men--by manual labor.

These ShipBreakers scrap the world's ships with little more than their bare hands.

Despite wretched conditions, they say it is better to work and die than to starve and die.

Over thirty thousand men come here to disassemble old, rusting ships that the First Nations of the world discard on the beaches of the third world.
And by discard, I mean sell as scraps.

Using blow torches, sledgehammers, chisels and wedges workers break the mammouth steel behemoths.

Massive slabs of carved up ships, plunge into the water, raising clouds of mist.

After the huge pieces crash into the water like glaciers calving, they are winched onto shore where they are cut up into bite-size pieces weighing hundreds of pounds then lifted and loaded by teams of guys--who sing in rhythm as they walk lock-step carrying the very heavy inch-thick steel plates--onto trucks

These metal scraps are sold (very profitably by the owners who live in huge mansions in town) as scrap metal across the country and Asia (with some reworked into 'new' ships).

ShipBreaker, carrying a rusted part from a Russian ship:

Hammers at work, smashing metal into smaller pieces:

Ships reach to the sky:

This ShipBreaking installation exists because of the tide. It is one of those places -- like the Bay of Fundy in Canada -- where a host of geographical circumstances come together to create exceptionally large differences between the twice-daily high and low tides. Coupled with a soft, shelving beach, the tides at Alang make shipbreaking possible with a minimum of construction. There are no piers or drydocks. Ships are simply run onto the shore, and sometimes even pulled by the ShipBreakers towards their final destination.

ShipBreakers live in hovels built of scrap, with no showers, toilets or latrines. You can see such hovels from space using google map:
(Alang, India)
They have come from poor villages on the other side of India, lured by wages that start at $1.50 a day, to work at dangerous jobs, protected only by their scarves and sandals.

They suffer broken ankles, severed fingers, smashed skulls, malarial fevers, chol-era, dysentery and tuberculosis. Some are burned and some are drowned. Nobody keeps track of how many die here from accidents and disease.

Ship breaking is done from 7 AM to 11 PM (same crew) with two half hour breaks and an hour for lunch (supper is eaten after they go home at 11); 14 hours a day, 6-1/2 days a week (off half day Friday for Muslim observations).

Workers in Alang begin stirring around 7:30 a.m.. Some wash from a bucket on the muddy ground outside their huts. Others squat by puddles, dipping toothbrushes in the yellow water and cleaning their teeth. There's early morning coughing all around.
At this hour, the chief activity is along the strip of shacks that serve the workers' needs: a barber's stall and a tailor's, a man who does laundry and a Muslim prayer leader, vendors who sell bicycle parts, kerosene lamps, sodas, cigarettes, fruit and eggs.

The men live in shacks they have built out of lumber harvested from the ships. The shacks are packed on the dunes behind the beach, separated by muddy alleys. Four or eight or 12 men might live in one shack. There is no furniture, no light, no water.
Here is a nearby shack village, covered in lifeboats, harnessed from one of the ships:

Sriram Prasad, 32, with dark hair brushed forward and a bushy mustache, counts himself among the lucky men of Alang. He lives in an 8-foot-square shack with three others. They sleep on a table. The walls are covered with newspapers; little triangles of colored paper hang from the ceiling. He has a wife and two sons back home. A brother and many of his neighbors work here. He gets the shack for free.

He says he has worked here 10 years. "It's hazardous -- we're always scared of getting hurt. I get bruised all the time, but I've been lucky and never seriously hurt.

"But I've seen so many people die. I've seen 100 people die before my eyes. It is just a matter of destiny."
This attitude infects seemingly everyone in Alang. Destiny brings men who otherwise could not support themselves to this fiery corner of India. Destiny wears them out and fills them with malaria. Destiny deprives them of decent sanitation. Destiny burns them and crushes them.
"The best thing is the money, which I wouldn't get anyplace else," says Prasad, "and the worst thing is not knowing how long you'll be alive."

There are no cranes, no special equipment, no safety of any kind. Often, shipbreakers don't even have shoes.

They carry metal scraps through the water, often cutting themselves on metal that litters the beach.

Dangers arise very often:

In a fires caused by improper oil containment inside old tankers that catches fire from the welding

Asbestos and poisonous smoke that fills in the air from the ship-cutting:

"There is a shadow of death on this place," says Ram Lalit, a 22-year-old worker. "This place is haunted by it."

The U.S. Navy, which for years has insisted on scrapping its ships in the United States, now also sends them abroad -- here to India, or to similar beachfronts in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

"I was two feet away," says Shiv Shankar, 38. "I was talking to them. The last thing I said was, 'Why don't you work faster? It's time to get this job over with.'" The whole section broke off and plunged 40 feet into the ship's hold. Three men died from head injuries. Five survived. None was wearing a hard hat. "This was God's will," says a supervisor, Toofani Bhai, 32. "Nothing could be done about it. I felt hurt -- it pained me. I was among those who picked up the bodies and put them on the ambulance."

"Alang," he says, "is a colony of the dead -- breathing, walking dead men." After the section fell, the owner of the yard called for Alang's single ambulance. It happened to be available. Digvijay H. Sarviya, the driver, says that when he got to the accident scene it appeared that two men were dead and one was near death. He decided to load all three into the ambulance, because he wasn't sure.
The trip to the hospital took 2 hours. By that time all 3 were dead.

The scrapyard owners look on from their porches, sipping sweet milky tea. Walking to or from the yards, the men of Alang seem listless, worn out, beaten down. But they are diligent workers. At Plot 66, two men, facing each other, pull on the ends of a large hacksaw, like lumberjacks, cutting the copper pipes of a boiler. They've been at it since 3 p.m. the day before. They expect to finish toward sundown the next day.

Back and forth, in a patient trance, with an unvarying stroke, they pull at the saw.
"It's how we earn our bread," says Ram Sanwarey, 38.

Wrapped in an orange shroud, workers carry the body of Shahade Ram, 35, who had worked here five years. He had complained of a cough and chest pain. A self-styled doctor told him he would be fine and gave him a glucose injection. At 1 a.m. he had died in his hut.
The body is placed on the pile, made out of wood scavenged from a ship.
There is a brief distraction: A fire at a plot 200 yards away has sent workers running in all directions. It ends with the concussive explosion of an oxygen canister.
Seven men walk around the pyre, chanting, "Ram, nam, satya hai," and lighting the fire with burning bundles of reeds.

Bright orange flames leap from the pyre, and the men back away from the heat. A few leave. One rings a bicycle bell as he walks away.
The fire burns for a long time, until finally the tide comes in, washing away what little remains of Shahade Ram.

Now, has your today's perception of the world changed, after seeing these images and hearing this story?
Expect more similar visual research posts in the future.

Image and quote sources, to credit photographers and journalists. Please visit their websites for more info and images:
www.globalgayz.com/BDChittagon… www.summilux.net/forums/viewto… www.photographersdirect.com/st… www.luminous-landscape.com/1ph… theonlinephotographer.typepad.… news-service.stanford.edu/news… www.kultureflash.net/archive/2… www.terra.com.br/sebastiaosalg… www.ssmaritime.com/italia-line… www.foreignpolicy.com/issue_ja… www.claudiocambon.com/

There's now a great video on the issue----
© 2008 - 2024 alexiuss
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rinamorata's avatar
Aw, most of the images have stopped showing up.