Strict environmental controls have been enforced by Bangladesh Supreme Court on the country's ship-breaking yards, which might spark some protests.
About a third of all ships worldwide are dismantled in sprawling yards on Bangladesh's southeastern coastline, where rights organisations say workers are exposed to a host of toxic chemicals and other occupational hazards.
All ships scrapped must now be certified toxic-free by the selling nation's environmental authorities, the court said, reinstating a January law the government was forced to abandon in April after lengthy strikes by shipyards.
"It is a victory of humanity over raw money and muscle power," lawyer Rizwana Hasan, who heads the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, the group that brought the case to the Supreme Court, told AFP.
The Supreme Court said the industry would be allowed to appeal the ruling, but not for four months.
The verdict is a major blow for Bangladesh's ship-breaking industry -- the world's largest -- which successfully lobbied in April for the right to import ships on their own declarations that the vessels are free from toxic materials.
"This latest court order could bring an end to the ship-breaking industry in Bangladesh. Thousands of workers will lose their jobs," said Anam Chowdhury, an advisor to the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association.
"It's a victory for environmental groups. They want Bangladesh -- a third-world country -- to maintain European standards.
"Even India, our main competitor in the ship-breaking industry, does not have such standards," he said.
Dismantling old ships is a key industry in the South Asian nation, providing more than two-thirds of domestic steel. Iron prices shot up 20 percent earlier this year when breaking yards shut to protest against the law.
"This is a good verdict, not a death blow for the industry," Mohammad Ali Shaheen, Bangladesh head of the Global NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, told AFP.
"Better environmental standards will not destroy the industry, but they will eat into the yard owners' profits significantly," he said.
Ships heading for Bangladesh routinely contain chemicals such as asbestos, which could easily be removed in specially-equipped yards in Europe and America -- but this raises the cost of breaking the ship, Shaheen said.
"There is still plenty of room for local yards to make profit with these new standards which also protect workers, protect the coastline -- the industry will not die, yards just won't make so much profit," he said.
He said the Bangladeshi government should also look into setting up facilities so that yards can safely process the small amount of toxic material that will be found in any ship during the breaking process.
The country's 100 breaking yards imported nearly 200 ships last year -- about 30 percent of all ships recycled globally, according to London-based Clarkson Research.
Environmental groups say labour safety and environmental standards are routinely ignored in the scrap yards, leading to the deaths of at least 300 workers in the past decade and massive pollution along the southeastern coast.