IT is rapidly becoming clear why shipbreaking is considered one of the most hazardous occupations in the world. During the last nine weeks, there have been three major accidents at the Gadani shipbreaking yard, claiming around 30 lives and leaving scores injured. On Nov 1, huge explosions on board the 24,000-tonne MT Aces oil tanker killed at least 26 people and injured around 70. On Dec 22, a fire broke out in a tanker, but fortunately caused no casualties. On Monday however, five workers were burnt to death in yet another fire that erupted inside an LPG tanker. According to reports, the labourers on board were taking a tea break within the bowels of the massive steel hulk they were dismantling when the cork underlayment insulating the gas tanks caught fire. Most managed to escape, but the bodies of five workers were found later, charred beyond recognition.
The apparent concentration of incidents at Gadani over the last few weeks raises alarm, and justifiably so. However, the fact is that the magnitude of the Nov 1 tragedy has managed to focus attention on what is actually a long-standing issue — the shocking lapses in safety protocols and lack of accountability of those who should enforce them. Gadani, one of the world’s largest shipbreaking yards, is no stranger to all manner of accidents that until now have not made it to the news. These include not only fires but other causes such as snapping steel wire ropes which can result in death or ghastly injuries. Although safety protocols exist, they are outdated and even enforcing these consumes time, and time means money. The sooner a ship is dismantled, the sooner it turns a profit for the yard owners. Most ship owners also ignore the lack of safety precautions at South Asian yards — including India, Bangladesh and Pakistan — where almost the entire global shipbreaking industry is based. Moreover, they sell their vessels to these yards via companies specialising in the business of end-of-life tonnage, thereby absolving themselves of the responsibility of their vessels being properly demolished. International maritime law should hold them accountable. Also the fact that bulk vessels, container ships and tankers top the list of demolition sales means that more workers are engaged in dismantling these giants, which puts more people in harm’s way. It must be demanded of the Balochistan Development Authority to immediately enforce all applicable safety standards at Gadani.
Published in Dawn January 11th, 2017