KARACHI: As the report from the University of Karachi which suspected “soybean dust (aeroallergens)” as the cause of the recent deaths in Keamari was questioned by experts and the institutions concerned, the authorities now pin hope for ascertaining the nature of gas mainly on final findings of autopsy of at least two bodies and medical examination of some 15 affected persons, officials and sources said on Thursday.
With the launch of the fifth edition of Pakistan Super League amid much media fanfare and massive opening ceremony at the National Stadium, the tragic incident which killed around 10 people and affected hundreds, paralysing life in the city’s bustling port area for three days, failed to find space in the mainstream media. But the deep fear and uncertainty in the residents of the low-income neighbourhood has failed to dissipate.
“The theories one after another fail to convince the authorities and none of them has enough substance to reach any conclusion,” said a source privy to the fresh developments. “Now the final report of the autopsy of the bodies by the medico-legal section of the health department” may reveal something substantive, said the source. “Once the nature of poisoning and cause of deaths are disclosed, it would help to reach a conclusion.”
The officials concerned confirmed that there were two bodies on which autopsy was conducted as a majority of families of the victims did not allow any medical examination of their loved ones. Once the findings from different sections were compiled, they said, they would be shared with the people tasked with probing the incident.
“We conducted autopsy of two bodies on Tuesday,” police surgeon Dr Qarar Abbasi told Dawn. “Similarly, the samples of 15 persons were also collected who were affected by the gas and brought to hospital unconscious. All those 15 persons were later released after treatment. The two bodies which we examined were of two male adults. The comprehensive report would also include findings of the chemical examiner. It may take a few more days to compile and finalise the report.”
‘More than 600 labourers worked on the ship and none of them was affected’
Earlier, the Ship Agents Association & Stevedoring Conference “condemned” the report about the ship carrying soybean, urging the authorities “to investigate the true nature of this incident considering the ground realities rather than getting involved in rumour mongering or speculation”.
“We strongly condemn the rumours that are circulating, targeting soybean cargo which was being discharged partly at the Karachi Port Trust’s berth 10/11, East Wharf,” said a statement from the association. “It may be noted that the cargo was discharged only during night of Sunday, Feb 16, (discharging commenced at 19:00 hours) and day of Monday, Feb 17, (discharging stopped at about 22:00 hours). More than 600 labourers worked on the ship and none of them has been affected.”
This cargo, it said, had been arriving at Karachi Port for the past many years and up till now not a single incident had occurred or had been reported. When the cargo was being discharged, the wind direction was north-east which means that it was blowing towards Manora, not towards land, it added.
Fumigation theory discounted
The federally-administered Department of Plant Protection (DPP) also denied the report about fumigation of any consignment at the port with methyl bromide.
In a statement, the ministry of national food security and research clarified that a ship carrying import consignment of soybean for oil extraction purpose was not fumigated with methyl bromide as it was found free from live insect pests at the time of inspection at the port conducted by the quarantine inspectors of the DPP.
“The department undertakes plant quarantine as per the provisions of the Pakistan Plant Quarantine Act and International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures agreed under the WTO-SPS Agreement,” it said. “The import and export consignments of plant material or agro-commodities undergo mandatory quarantine inspection and treatments (if required) to safeguard agricultural wealth from the introduction of exotic pests and diseases. When the issue of losses of human life were highlighted in the media, immediately a subsequent inspection of the same ship was conducted.”
Likewise, it said, no evidence of treatment of the vessel with methyl bromide was found, adding that this might further be clarified from the fact that none of the DPP inspectors or crew of the ship experienced any problem while being exposed to the ship.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020