Five more shipbreaking workers were killed and one injured in yet another fire that took place in the shipbreaking yards of Gadani, Pakistan, yesterday morning. The deadly fire broke out on board of the beached vessel GAZ FOUNTAIN (IMO 8406054). The LPG tanker’s last beneficial owner was the Greek shipping line Naftomar. The vessel’s name was changed to RAIN and its Panama flag swapped for the end-of-life flag Comoros just before the last voyage – a clear indicator of the use of a cash buyer.
Shipping newspaper TradeWinds asked cash buyer Wirana for a comment in December, when a first fire had occurred on the same ship. Wirana, one of the world’s largest firms specialised in end-of-life deals, lists Naftomar as a client.
The accident occurred at yard n° 60, owned by Rizwan Diwan Farooq, the former president of the Pakistan Ship Breakers’ Association. According to The Dawn, a leading daily newspaper, Farooq was detained after having fled the yard. The newspaper reported that the fire broke out due to a “chemical foam” present in the ship. The local Environment Department said that all combustibles should have been removed before the cutting process started and that the accident signalled serious neglect. No worker was injured in the earlier fire that had broken out on the vessel on 21 December; however, that incident did not result in any further safety measures that could have prevented yesterday’s deadly accident. According to another media source, the bodies of Saeed Khan, Alif Khan, Muhammad Saeed, Sabir and Naimat were sent to their native town of Peshawar on the expense of the victim’s families.
“Less than three months after the worst explosion in the history of shipbreaking shook Gadani, five more men are dead. We wonder how many lives must be lost before the Government cracks down on the appalling working conditions”, says Patrizia Heidegger, Executive Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “It is shameful for both the ship owner, Naftomar, and the cash buyer to benefit from a situation in which workers’ lives are risked to maximise profits. We ask ship owners to ensure that their end-of-life ships are dismantled in clean and safe ship recycling facilities off the beach”.
Cash buyers such as GMS and Wirana promote their so-called “green” ship recycling services, but both continue to trade vessels to the world’s worst shipbreaking yards. The Platform has shown that these cash buyers sell old ship to yards with appalling accident records, and facilitate dubious deals such as the illegal export of the “North Sea Producer” from the UK to Bangladesh.
On 1 November 2016, at least 27 workers were killed and 58 injured in an explosion on an oil tanker beached at yard n° 54 at Gadani. Four more workers are still missing as their families have not been able to find their bodies in the mortuary. After the catastrophe, the Government stopped work at the shipbreaking yards, and several key persons of the industry were arrested. However, the yards were soon allowed to return to business as usual, and the Government has yet to prove that it will ensure that the Pakistan shipbreaking industry is moved to industrial platforms that can provide necessary safety measures for workers and prevent pollution of the coastal environment.
On 8 January, another worker, the 24 year old Dilshaad, was killed in a separate incident, when a lifeboat crashed down from the SNOWDON (IMO 9112313). The beached ship’s last beneficial owner was the Zodiac Group, a Monaco and London-based shipping company owned by the Ofer family. Over the last years, the Platform has been able to link severe accidents in Bangladesh to Zodiac vessels being broken on the beach.
In November, Platform member organisation Centre of the Rule of Law, Islamabad (CRoLI), filed a petition in the courts to press for further action and the release of information to which the Government of Pakistan and the Government of the province of Balochistan, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Labour department have to reply to. As a result, the Prime Minister has ordered an inquiry. The Government’s report is yet to be published.
“The death of 33 workers in these last months must be a wake-up call for the Pakistan Government”, says Heidegger. “There is growing awareness amongst ship owners. In particular, investors, shipping banks and the clients of the shipping industry are growing weary of such gruesome accidents. If Pakistan does not want to lose this industry, the Government needs to ensure it is shifted to industrial sites off the beach”.