Dawn – NGO warns against import of toxic ship

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3 October 2013 - A non-governmental organisation and its member NGOs have called upon Pakistan and other regional countries to halt the import of a damaged, presumably toxic European ship and urged the governments concerned to refrain from bringing the vessel for ship-breaking.

A statement released on Thursday by the Shipbreaking Platform, an international NGO acting as a watchdog on ship-breaking industry throughout the world, which has 18 member organisations, said the ship had caught fire in July and was later towed to Port-Louis in Mauritius and, reportedly, was still there.

The vessel is suspected to have burnt containers and cargo which may contain a substantial amount of hazardous materials such as heavy metals or PCBs (polychlorinated organic compounds containing two benzene rings). In addition, the vessel is suspected to carry dangerous substances in fire fighting water as well as a significant amount of fuel and oil.

The NGO said: “The beaches of South Asia are the final destination for 70pc of the world’s end-of-life vessels. Hazardous materials cannot be safely removed from end-of-life ships by untrained workers exposed to one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

“Hazardous waste such as asbestos, PCBs, heavy metals and oil residues are often not identified correctly and may even be resold on the local market or dumped into the environment without proper care.

“Lack of training and awareness leave ship-breaking workers – especially in Bangladesh where child labour takes place – exposed to the inhalation of toxic fumes that can lead to severe diseases, including cancer.

“Accidents are frequent in the yards: in 2012, the NGO recorded 40 deaths in the ship-breaking yards in South Asia, although restricted access to information may hide more victims and the long-term effects of occupational diseases are not recorded,” it said.

Commenting on the statement, WWF-P director Rab Nawaz said: “If the ship was imported to Pakistan, it may cause severe marine pollution in the Gaddani area which is already stressed because of a number of economic and industrial activities.”

The Federal Board of Revenue, port authorities, Balochistan Environmental Protection Agency and Pakistan Customs, he said, needed to keep a vigil on unscrupulous elements who might import this vessel to the country for recycling. This, he said, was necessary to protect human and marine life.

Mohammad Moazzam Khan, technical adviser (marine fisheries) of WWF-P, said that Gaddani was a part of Sonmiani which was considered to have rich marine biodiversity especially around Churna and Kaio islands. Dumping of toxic waste, he said, might seriously harm the area’s fragile ecosystem.

“Unplanned construction of a fish harbour has already jeopardised the biodiversity of the area recently designated as an energy corridor. Proposed construction of power plants may further degrade marine environment of the area unless proper mitigation measures are taken,” he said.