KARACHI: Plot Number 54 in Gaddani’s ship-breaking yard is largely empty apart from three workmen trying to fix a recently installed safety tower right opposite the ship.
An explosion in an oil tank during gas welding inside the ship caused the loss of 27 lives on Nov 1.
Work at the ship-breaking yard came to a halt immediately afterwards.
News about work starting afresh at the ship-breaking yard has filtered in just recently, but labourers say the work has only begun at “ground level”.
Work is under way only to further dismantle the already dismantled spare parts of one ship, beached next to the compound before the Nov 1 explosion.
“Apart from that, 17 ships are still waiting for the dismantling process to begin. These ships are still in the sea, because the customs authorities have not yet received confirmation from the government to allow dismantling work on it. As soon as they receive confirmation, the ships will be beached and work will begin anew,” says Basheer Mehmoodani, president of the ship-breaking worker union in Gaddani.
So far, workers at the ship-breaking yard have received head gears, overalls and shoes from the association for their safety at the site.
However, extended work hours with low wages is another issue that needs to be considered, says Mohammad Moin from Muzaffargarh who works near the safety tower.
Among the oldest labourers at the ship-breaking yard, some are still awaiting compensation, Moin says, adding that the families of four labourers out of the 27 victims have got Rs1.3 million each from the association.
“It was given to them by Balochistan Development Minister Hamid Khan Achakzai,” says Moin.
From what he knows and heard the labourers at the compound speak about, he says, documentation of the remaining 23 workers is being completed.
The families of some Bengali and Burmese workers have been running from one department to another in order to claim their bodies.
Out of the 27 dead, the bodies of four victims are yet to be found.
Two of them belong to Karachi and two are from Gaddani. One of these bodies is of Mohammad Shafiq, son of Saira Bano, from Karachi.
Being a Bengali, Saira Bano’s Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) is blocked on the basis of her status “not ascertained by the institution,” and her son does not have an identity card, which makes it difficult to look for him at hospitals and mortuaries where the CNIC is a requirement.
“What they are doing right now,” says Mehmoodani, “is trying to use Shafiq’s step father’s CNIC who is of Pakistani origin. It’d help us in registering an FIR of him being missing since the incident which would help in getting compensation for the family.”
Workers say that the Bengalis and Burmese labourers get the riskier part of the job, including gas welding and helping other labourers, while mostly Pakhtuns are tasked with emptying oil tanks.
“Since these Bengalis and Burmese are not recognised by the state, chances of them getting exploited are higher than any other labourer working at the ship-breaking yard,” says Mohammad Akhter Yaseen, a labourer at the compound.
Apart from the Bengalis and the Burmese, Pakhtuns are among 65 per cent of the labourers at the ship-breaking yard.
“They are the ones who get the major chunk of the work which includes dismantling and cleaning of oil tanks,” says Yaseen.
He says that most of these people stay within the compounds as they have nowhere else to go once the work is done for the day. Baloch workers remain a minority at the ship-breaking yard, he explains.
Mehmoodani adds that with the help of Workers’ Welfare Board of the Government of Balochistan, a sum of Rs15 million has been kept aside for the labourers who died in the explosion.
“But those who got injured recently backed off and said they don’t need compensation,” he claims.
Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2016