Our affinity with shipbuilding goes back centuries, in close harmony with our love of conquering the seas and discovering new lands. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, the Old Shipyard is a flurry of somewhat dangerous activity, repairing ships and maintaining old vessels. Set on the Buriganga River Bank right across Sadarghat in Old Dhaka, this shipyard stirs evocative scenes of a busy, demanding life somewhat tinged with beauty.
The shipyard is open to everyone, and what do you notice when you first enter? Despite their challenging circumstances, the workers are friendly and welcome visitors and even ship owners with their disarming smiles. As you walk along the shipyard, the rhythmic hum and buzz of the hammering will accompany you. You'll notice workers armed with hammers and other tools cut metal, weld and paint ship hulls in deep concentration worthy of a Zen monk.
Ship repairing seems like the yard's main activity, but plenty of other things are happening. There are workplaces for ship engine maintenance and foundries for ships' propellers.
The enormous cable winches stand out like tall monster arms ready to drag ships out of the Buringanga River. You will, however, be struck with the lack of more modern technologies like cranes, forklifts and welding machines. The shipyard seems to belong to a previous era when technology began to advance. Men worked harder to earn their keep in uncomplaining acceptance. You would feel like a time-traveller in the 19th century. The workers smile and bear their lot with humility.
However, there is a much darker side to the shipyard adventures. Your romantic view might hit you when you see an apparent lack of protective gear. Workers wield their hammers without protective glasses safeguarding their eyes. There is a definitive lack of safety helmets. You'll see workers dangerously applying paint onto the hulls using a rag or even their bare hands. Where oh where are the paintbrushes? The hammering is deafening, yet no one seems to be bothered by earplugs. The workers are sometimes adolescent boys of around 1 to 15 years of age. Yet, they work hard, smile and enjoy their meagre fare during lunch break. What exactly do they do when they go back home? How do they drown their sorrows and fatigue?
The only upside is that the shipbuilding industry is growing in Bangladesh, allowing many to find steady jobs in the industrial sector. Perhaps, in time the safety of workers would become a priority. But, for now, the adventure of the shipyard is fraught with weariness and tinges with hope.