A Cemetery for Ships

by Chadd McGlone

Chapel Hill, NC, United States

Situated along the Bay of Bengal, Chittagong, Bangladesh, is one of the ten fastest growing cities in the world. Its population has more than doubled in the past twenty years. The second largest city and the largest seaport of the world’s poorest country, Chittagong is the maritime gateway for the country. Visitors to Chittagong see the population’s intimate relationship with the Indian Ocean, nearby lakes, and the Kamaphuli River.

Chittagong is where Bangladesh meets the Indian Ocean. Many of the country’s oldest and largest companies are located there, and it even has its own stock exchange. It is the center of the country’s ship building, automotive, steel, and petroleum industries. Bangladeshi tourists visit the nearby seaside town of Cox’s Bazar for weekend trips.

A Ship’s Final Port

A visitor to Chittagong would almost certainly notice an unbelievable amount of abandoned ships near shore and all along the Kamaphuli River. These hulls confirm that one of the top industries in Chittagong is ship-breaking. Retired ships of 25 to 30 years old are left by their owners to be disassembled.

Nearly 97 percent of each ship’s components are recycled in various ways. For examples, steel structures are melted down for reuse, and valuable metals such as copper can be extracted. Each shipyard can make as much as $1 million in profit per year.

Unfortunately, there is a darker side to the ship-breaking industry. Because of the great poverty in the region, young adult men and children as young as 12 work long hours dismantling ships by hand. Paid as little as 5 US dollars per day, they are allowed to sleep in the ships.

Breaking a ship is a dangerous job. Several people each month are killed falling off of the 5- to 10-story ships, hit by pieces of steel, or trapped in air-tight compartments. Finally, workers’ health suffers from exposure to the hazardous substances left behind on the beaches. Three percent of every ship is non-recyclable material such as asbestos.

For the Tourists

Further away from the city, a traveler might also visit one of the nearby attractions for weekend getaways. For example, the natural, deep-water Boga Lake is located in the mountainous Bandarban district. Scientists believe the lake was formed by rainwater collected in an ancient volcanic crater almost 2,000 years ago, but locals tells another story.

According to legend, the lake was formed when residents in the Khumi village killed and ate a deity who reappeared in the form of a dragon. At that moment, an earthquake caused the village to collapse, forming the Boga Lake. You are welcome to visit the lake to enjoy its scenic views, but watch out for the dragon!

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Math Questions

  1. In 2007, the population in millions of Chittagong is 3.5 (1 + 0.044)^7. What was the population in 2005? What was the population in 2000?
  2. In 2021, if it continues to grow at the current rate, the population in millions of Chittagong will be 5.4 (1 + 0.044)^11. Write a division expression to show the population 4 years earlier. Rewrite your expression with a single exponent.
  3. Why are the starting values different in #1 and #2? Can they both be accurate? Why?

Write your own math question and submit it here

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Extension Questions

This article highlights an important quandary in the developing world—the presence of jobs that provide income but present unnecessary dangers. If you owned one of these ship-breaking companies, and money was no object, how would you handle this dilemma? What happens to your answer when you consider that you have to make a profit to keep the company afloat (pun intended)?

Write your own extension question and submit it here


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