Dhaka’s ship building industry is experiencing a boom in demand for repair work thanks to the high volume of imports via river routes.
At present, around 26 shipyards are in operation on the banks of Buriganga River, where 40 to 50 ships are built and over 500 ships repaired every year.
“It’s a dry season for this business and ship owners have been selling their ships for cheap. Many of us are hopeful as demand for imports have increased, which has helped us overcome our dependence on building new ships and encouraged new businesses that are focused on ship repairs. If we get access to upgraded technology and skilled manpower, we will be able to compete in the global market with ease,” said Nazmul Haque, president of the Dhaka Shipbuilders Group.
Nazmul added that this business comes with many risks.
“If any ship sinks or has an accident, the government does not have the means to recover them, meaning we face total losses and are faced with uncertainty,” said Nazmul, also proprietor of Haque Shipbuilders.
According to Nazmul, the government needs to place greater emphasis on developing recovery measures, so that businesses are able to operate with ease regardless of accidents.
When all commodity supplies are sufficiently available, building a mid-range cargo ship with a capacity to carry 1500-2500 tons takes approximately 10 to 12 months and costs around Tk5cr, whereas larger cargo ships with a capacity to carry 3,500 tons, costs about Tk10cr.
These costs may vary depending on the quality of the materials that are being used, and can cost can be as high as TK14cr.
At present, around eight to ten types of vessels, be it wooden boats, iron trawlers or cargo ships, are being built or repaired at the Dhaka shipyard area.
In addition to building and repairing ships, these businesses also rents shipways for Tk30,000 to Tk50,000 per week, as well as offering services for moving ships at dry-docks for Tk.90,000 .[FX1]
MV Surovi is one such 250 feet long cargo ship that has been undergoing repairs for the past month. Over the course of the next 90 days the ship will be coloured, welded, and have machineries installed at the docks.
Another small 150 feet long cargo vessel called Ayesha Enterprise just started repairs on December 25, 2016, at Baby Dock Yard in Char Kaliganj. The ship’s owner estimates it will cost approximately Tk20 lakh to repair machinery and change its plates.
About 15,000 to 20,000 daily labourers are employed in 72 industries under the platform of Dhaka Shipbuilders Group, and 42 among them have No Objection Certificates (NOC).
Habibur Rahman, a 36-year-old contractor who has 28 years of experience, said there is an acute lack of space, utility connections and lack of skilled manpower.
“If there is more space, we can build more large ships worth Tk100cr. We need skilled manpower to help the industry flourish.”
Habibur has held many posts at the docks in his career, and has worked as an in-charge for nine years in a dock based out of Singapore.
According to Habibur, there is a need for protective gear such as helmets, gloves or welding
glasses at the docks. Most workers do not have this equipment despite the fact that the law has strict provisions on the use of protective wear.
“I have only one set of protective gear that is being shared by workers who work in different shifts. Since these workers are unfamiliar with using them, they are often reluctant to do so,” he added.
Accidents in docks are a common occurrence and most workers have visible injuries that were a direct result of inadequate protective gear.
Delwar Hossain, a 44 year old welding worker on a wage of Tk1000, said: “The gear we have are made from plastic and are useless. This is why many of us are reluctant to use them. What’s worse is that no one will take responsibility for an injured worker.”