Widow of Bangladesh shipbreaker can pursue test case in UK

Hamida Begum, a Bangladeshi woman whose husband died during the dismantling of an oil tanker in a Bangladesh shipyard has been given permission to persist with a claim for compensation from a UK company that is linked to the vessel, reports Reuters.

The Court of Appeal has rejected a request by London-based shipbroker Maran (UK) Ltd that the negligence case to be dismissed. It was the second appeal the company had lost.

The plaintiff’s husband, Khalil Mollah, 32, fell to his death in 2018 while breaking up the tanker Ekta in the Bangladesh port of Chattogram.

Her UK-based lawyers assert that working conditions in Bangladesh’s yards were known to be dangerous. They argue that Maran bore responsibility for Mollah’s death because it sold the tanker to an intermediary, knowing that it would probably end up in Chittagong.

At least seven Bangladeshi shipbreaking workers died last year and there were 24 deaths in 2019, according to non-profit Young Power in Social Action.

Law firm Leigh Day, which is representing Begum, said this was believed to be first judgment of a higher court that directly held that shipping companies could be held liable for subsequent events after vessels have been sold.

Oliver Holland, a partner at Leigh Day, said that “the (findings) will send shockwaves around the shipping industry as a higher court has recognised that shipping companies choosing to send vessels to the beaches of Bangladesh may owe a duty of care to the local workers and can be liable”.

Maran (UK) Ltd expressed “sympathy and condolence” to Begum in a statement sent to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The Court of Appeal’s judgement this week dealt solely with matters of law, based on assumed facts, and whether or not the case should be struck out at this stage,” the company said, adding that “as the matter is ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”

The case started April 2019 when British lawyers representing Begum argued that Maran was responsible for the ship ending up in Bangladesh.

The company sought to have the application struck out, but in July 2020 the High Court in London ruled that the shipping company owed a duty of care to Mollah. The company appealed again. The case was again heard in February this year, with a ruling that was made public last week.

Lord Justice Coulson said in the judgment that “I consider that the duty of care alleged in this case, although faced with formidable hurdles, cannot be dismissed as fanciful”. He continued: “I consider that, because it is an unusual argument in a rapidly-developing area of law, it would also be wrong in principle to strike it out at this stage.”