THIS refers to the picture of a ship carrying hazardous materials at the Gadani shipbreaking yard (May 29). It speaks volumes of the dangers and risks involved if it is allowed for shipbreaking. It will be a disaster in every sense of the word.

The scars are still fresh of the tragic accident on Nov 1, 2016, which was termed the worst disaster in the history of global shipbreaking. An oil tanker, known as the floating production, storage and off-loading (FPSO) facility named ACES, had caught fire during shipbreaking, leaving 33 workers dead and another 54 wounded, while scores of others were trapped inside and were later declared ‘missing’.

As the FPSO tanker is used in off-shore oil and gas extraction and refinement process, it was, at the time of demolition, had several thousand tonnes of residual bunker oil and many gas cylinders. The vessel was not cleaned and cleared of the hazardous materials as required under the relevant standard operating procedures, and there were no remedial measures or necessary precautions adopted either, putting at risk hundreds of lives.

Ironically, the blazing fire continued unabated for over four long days as a series of explosions that occurred before fire broke out aboard the ship. The fire could not be controlled primarily due to lack of proper and adequate firefighting apparatus and equipment.

Also, the rescue and emergency response at site was appalling and practically non-existent. As anybody having anything to do with the industry will testify, fire and other serious accidents are common at the shipbreaking yard in Gadani.

Another fire had broken out on board a ship during the demolition process in December 2016, causing death of 22 workers and other casualties. After about two weeks, on Jan 9, 2017, another fire incident resulted in killing five workers, whereas many others sustained burn injuries.

But the most shocking fact is that the same partially-scrapped FPSO tanker, on resumption of its demolition after a one-year ban, caught fire again on Nov 13, 2017, injuring at least five workers.

Major fire accidents also happened on other vessels on July 17, Oct 18 and Nov 12 in 2018, which turned out to be a bad year for the shipbreaking industry.

Shipbreaking is considered a hazardous industry and a dangerous occupation the world over. In Pakistan, thousands of labourers from all provinces work in perilous conditions, dealing with hazardous materials and waste, like heavy metals, residual oils, toxic paints, asbestos, chemicals, etc.

The demolition crews are forced to work manually, but personal protective equipments (PPEs), such as protective clothing, helmets, goggles and others, are generally not provided. There is no system for toxic waste disposal either.

Likewise, there exist no hospitals, dispensaries or ambulances in spite of common occupational diseases, and adequate firefighting equipment is simply missing. There is no government agency to monitor and regulate the operations at the shipbreaking yard.

Given these conditions, the authorities concerned should not allow another vessel with hazardous materials for dismantling at the Gadani yard in order to avert another major disaster. Instead, the government should ensure proper and safe working conditions at the yard.

Hussain Siddiqui
Islamabad

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2021

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