Sepa orders KPT to stop soybean handling at port

Published December 26, 2020
Cranes poised above shimmering waters at the Pakistan Deep Water Container Terminal at Keamari. — Dawn/File
Cranes poised above shimmering waters at the Pakistan Deep Water Container Terminal at Keamari. — Dawn/File

KARACHI: After finding “high concentration of pollutants” during an inspection on Thursday, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) has directed the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) to immediately stop all operational activities related to soybean at the port till further orders.

The inspection was undertaken after reports emerged that a suspected gas leak in the Keamari area had claimed the lives of four people in less than a week while 22 people had been treated for symptoms, including breathing difficulties, at a hospital.

When contacted, the KPT spokesman, however, said that the handling of the cargo continued uninterrupted.

He said as the KPT was a federal organisation, the provincial agencies could not stop it from handling 67,000 tonnes of soybean from the ship that had anchored at the port earlier this month.

Early in February, a similar incident had taken place in the same area, leaving at least 14 people dead and affecting more than 200 other people.

Trust official says province doesn’t enjoy powers to take such action

According to the Environmental Protection Order (EPO), a copy of which is available with Dawn, the Sepa monitoring team inspected the KPT berths Nos. 11 and 12 where soybean was being off-loaded from the vessel Mega Benefit.

“Where it was physically observed that high concentrations of particulate matters and soybean dusts kept releasing in the open air. Moreover, upon discussion on this issue, your port handling/operational management team failed to provide satisfactory reply regarding mitigating measures and steps taken for pollution control,” the EPO dated Dec 24 states.

According to the EPO, the Sepa team was informed by the staff that the vessel carried 67,000 tonnes of soybean out of which 15,000 metric tonnes had been off-loaded over the past three days.

The order links non-environmentfriendly handling of soybean to human casualties and warns that non-compliance with the order will lead to action as per provisions of the Sindh Environmental Protection Act 2014.

Credible inquiry

While a report of the Karachi University’s International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences into the February incident had suspected that “soybean dust (aeroallergens)” might have caused the deaths, this finding was widely ruled out by other experts who called for a thorough inspection of the entire affected area.

The mystery remained unresolved amid growing political tensions between the federal and the provincial governments, which have administrative control of the port and the adjoining residential area, respectively.

Sepa, which initially blamed the February deaths on toxic leak from the terminals of crude oil and petroleum products located in the area, stopped further investigation into the incident after the Sindh government officially accepted the KU report as authentic.

In the 2019-20 marketing year (October-September), Pakistan’s soybean imports slipped from 15 million to 1.7m tonnes. However, soybean imports for the 2020-21 marketing year are forecast to total 2.4m tonnes based on expected international soybean price stabilisation and clearer GE regulatory guidelines.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2020

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