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Day 119: Chittagong

Michael Palin - HimalayaWith some relief, we pull off the main road and up a narrow dirt lane to the ship-breaking yard, one of several along this coast that have taken advantage of a plentiful cheap labour force to grab a lion's share of what was once a lucrative market. We're welcomed by the manager of the yard, a bearded, thoughtful man with dark glasses and a wide, embroidered shirt, not the sort you'd expect to be running such a rough and ready business. He leads us up a concrete stairwell and out across a patio, past serried ranks of toilets and washbasins that have been stripped off the ships. He shows us into a room where refreshments have been prepared and we take coffee and biscuits looking out over a panorama of sanitary fittings and hear about the state of the industry. It's not good. A quarter of a century since ship-breaking businesses first sprang up on this stretch of coast only two or three remain. The privately owned Bangladeshi yards are finding it very hard to compete with their state-financed Chinese rivals.

We walk outside and up onto the level above for a view of the yard. It is an extraordinary sight. Dismembered sections of once-mighty ships are scattered across a blackened, oily beach, like the remains of some disastrous invasion . Two ships stand off-shore, awaiting their fate. Furthest away is the Ocean Breeze, a sizeable cruise liner. With her trim white superstructure and matching navy-blue hull and funnel, she looks more like she's on a maiden voyage than in her death throes. Nearby is a supertanker, the Luccott. Every now and then, a shower of sparks spills down her hull as the oxyacetylene torches begin eating her away from inside.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 119: Chittagong
  • Country/sea: Bangladesh
  • Place: Chittagong
  • Book page no: 268

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