Ship breaking is the process of dismantling old ships for parts or scrap metal. It is a dangerous and polluting industry, and it is often carried out in unsafe conditions. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), injuries among ship breakers are incredibly common.

Ship breaking is usually done in developing countries, where labor costs are low and environmental regulations are lax. In some countries, injuries and deaths have become a way of life in this industry. Bangladesh, for example, is one of the major sites for ship breaking. Sadly, the country is not equipped with adequate facilities, disease control, or healthcare.

In the United States, ship breaking is not as massive of an industry. Here, ship breaking is done in a more controlled environment. Nonetheless, it is important that maritime workers be aware of the risks and what they can do if they suffer an injury.

Below, the maritime injury lawyers at Kherkher Garcia LLP discuss ship breaking, hazards, injuries, liability, and how injured workers can get help.

How Does Ship Breaking Work?

During ship breaking, the ships are often beached on a sandbar or mudflat, and then workers use torches and heavy machinery to break them up. This can release hazardous materials into the air and water, and it can also expose workers to dangerous fumes and dust.

The scrap metal from ship breaking is often used to make new ships or other metal products. However, some of the materials from old ships can also be recycled, such as the insulation, wiring, and electronics.

Ship breaking is a necessary part of the shipping industry, but it is important to ensure that it is done in a safe and environmentally responsible way.

What are the Hazards of Ship Breaking?

Injuries among ship breakers are unfortunately common due to the hazards of working in these environments. Here are some of the many hazards associated with ship breaking:

    • Hazardous Working Conditions: Ship breaking is a dangerous and polluting industry. Workers are often exposed to hazardous fumes and dust, and they may not have access to proper safety equipment.
    • Environmental Pollution: Ship breaking can release hazardous materials into the air and water. These materials can contaminate the environment and pose a risk to human health.
    • Waste: Ship breaking generates a lot of waste. This waste can include hazardous materials, such as asbestos and lead. It is important to dispose of this waste properly to prevent environmental contamination.
    • Social Problems: Ship breaking can also lead to social problems. In some cases, workers have been forced to work in dangerous conditions for little pay. There have also been reports of child labor in the ship breaking industry.

It is important to address these problems in order to make ship breaking a more sustainable and responsible industry.

Common Injuries Among Ship Breakers

Ship breaking workers are often exposed to a range of physical, chemical, and biological hazards, which can result in various injuries and health problems. Some of the common injuries among ship breakers include:

Cuts and Bruises

Ship breaking involves using heavy machinery and tools to dismantle the ship’s components, which can result in cuts, bruises, and other minor injuries. Breaking down metal often results in sharp or jagged edges, which can easily cause cuts as workers dismantle ships and haul scrap.


Ship breaking involves cutting through metal using oxy-acetylene torches, which can cause severe burns if not handled properly. Additionally, ships may contain flammable materials that may ignite when exposed to sparks or flame. Burns from fire or explosion can cause serious injury, disability, or death.

Respiratory Problems

Ship breaking workers are exposed to dust, asbestos, and other toxic substances, which can cause respiratory problems such as asthma, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and silicosis. Ship breakers should always have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators to prevent inhalation of dangerous substances.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

The manual handling of heavy components and awkward postures can lead to musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain, neck pain, and repetitive strain injuries. This is an extreme hazard for workers in the maritime industry, who often work in cramped or awkward positions while performing repetitive tasks.

Heat Stress

Ship breaking is often carried out in hot and humid conditions, which can cause heat stress. Without adequate PPE, rest breaks, and hydration, workers are at risk for dehydration, heat stroke, or heat exhaustion.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Ship breaking involves using loud machinery and tools, which can cause hearing loss over time. The process of breaking down heavy ship components is loud on its own, but may be magnified in enclosed spaces.

Exposure to Toxic Waste

Greenpeace estimates that as many as 1,000 ship breakers die each year across the world due to exposure to toxic waste. Ships being broken down may contain remnants of chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, radium, or heavy metals. Exposure to these toxins can cause serious health issues, including cancer.


Ships may be several stories tall and have additional height onboard the deck. Workers often must hang down the side on a harness to perform ship-breaking tasks. They also often work atop the structure, and may not have adequate safety gear. This puts workers at risk for falling from heights while dismantling the ship or hauling away scrap. Falls may cause fractures, head injuries, crush injuries, drowning, or death.


Ship breaking may involve working near water, which can increase the risk of drowning if proper safety measures are not in place. Workers may fall into the water while working in a shipyard. If they suffer injuries during the fall, they may not be able to get to safety.

It is important to note that the above list is not exhaustive and that ship breaking workers may be exposed to other hazards that can result in injuries and health problems. Therefore, it is essential to implement adequate safety measures and provide proper training to prevent accidents and injuries in the ship breaking industry.

Who is Liable for Ship Breaking Accidents?

Liability for ship-breaking accidents depends on various factors, including the cause of the accident, the ownership and management structure of the ship, and the applicable laws and regulations in the jurisdiction where the accident occurred.

In general, the ship owner and the ship breaking yard where the accident occurred may both be held liable for any damages resulting from the accident. But they are not the only parties that may be liable. Liability for injuries among ship breakers may include any of the following:

    • The ship owner may be liable for issues related to the maintenance and safety of the vessel.
    • The ship breaking yard may be responsible for ensuring that its workers are trained and equipped to safely dismantle the ship.
    • In some cases, third-party contractors or service providers may also be held liable if their actions or negligence contributed to the accident.
    • Regulatory authorities and government agencies may be responsible for enforcing safety regulations and ensuring compliance with environmental and labor standards.

It is important to note that in developing countries, maritime workers often do not have access to insurance, workers’ compensation coverage, or even basic public health services. It is often difficult for injured workers to obtain any benefits or compensation, even when liability is easy to identify.

What to Do After a Ship Breaking Injury

Two of the largest ship breaking sites in the U.S. are located in Brownsville, Texas. Another is located in Vallejo, California. It is important that maritime workers in the U.S. know what to do if they are injured in a ship breaking accident. Here are our recommendations:

Report the Accident

Any workplace accident should be reported to a supervisor as soon as possible. This is the best way to ensure proper documentation, especially if workers’ compensation or maritime laws provide benefits.

Get Medical Attention

Getting medical attention after a ship breaking injury is important to document the injuries and find out what sort of ongoing care may be necessary. Having accurate medical records is important to get benefits.

Contact a Maritime Lawyer

Maritime laws protect ship breakers who are injured on the job. Workers may qualify for maintenance and cure benefits, or benefits under The Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).

Working with a maritime injury lawyer is the best way to determine what benefits you may qualify for, and how best to obtain them. A skilled maritime lawyer will advise you of your rights, investigate liability and negligence, negotiate on your behalf, and ensure you get the benefits you are entitled to.

Get the Help You Need after a Maritime Injury

Injuries among ship breakers are incredibly common, but these are not the only maritime workers at risk. At Kherkher Garcia, we have helped numerous maritime workers protect their rights and pursue compensation after an injury. From seamen to deckhands, pilots to ship breakers – we are intimately familiar with maritime law and know what it takes to get results.

If you are suffering a maritime injury, contact our team to find out how we can help you. We have recovered millions of dollars for our clients to help them and their families recover after a tragic injury. We can help you!

Get the help you need by calling our maritime injury lawyers at 713-333-1030 for a free consultation.

Schedule a free Consultation

Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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