Times of India – Death just a spark away in Alang

(Written by Amit Mukherjee)

21 May 2003 -Promod Bauri’s eyes turned moist as he walked past the smouldering remains of ‘Inville’

The charred body of his friend Bhubanessar was extracted from the oil tanker-turned ocean liner that was ripped by an explosion on Monday. But, it was wasn’t just sorrow that clouded his face. Terror too was visible in the eyes of this man from Berhampur district of Orissa. Today, it could well be his turn.

Death stalks the 30,000-odd workers at Alang-Sosia every moment of the day. At the world’s biggest ship-breaking yard here, that saw two explosions in three months leaving 13 people dead, nobody knows whether they would return home safe.

As many as six persons died and several others sustained burn injuries in Monday’s accident here.

Danger lurks in many forms — if they barely manage to escape falling to death from the slippery surfaces of ocean-liners, there are inflammable gases that may trap them. “Survival is tough here, purely dependent on luck,” says Bauri.

Preliminary investigations into Monday’s blast aboard ‘Inville’ are over. And, it reveals a sordid tale of negligence by yard owner Rajesh Arya. “The owner had engaged gas cutters around the engine room of the ocean liner for dismantling work without cleaning the vessel properly of hazardous materials,” said senior officer of Gujarat Maritime Board in charge of Alang, Captain YP Deulkar.

A member of the forensic team said: “We have gathered evidence indicating adequate presence of hydrocarbons, which, along with hazardous material like sulphur, were present in the holds around the engine room. This could have triggered the explosion.”

He said the pipelines present in the area around the engine room could have contained naphtha, a highly inflammable substance, which initiated the flames resulting in an explosion. Besides sulphur, the presence of hydrocarbons like furnace oil form an explosive combination, said the FSL expert.

The intensity of the explosion could be gauged by the fact that the two hatches on the deck were thrown up several feet. The hatches,weighing about 130 tons each, were torn apart from the hinges due to the impact. “The intensity was equivalent to a several hundred kg of TNT,” said the FSL expert.

“The flames, which started from the joint of a pipeline at the engine room went up to up 20 feet and engulfed five people in the vicinity, including the operators of the gas cutters,” says Raju Yadav, a labourer who escaped death by a whisker but sustained severe burns.

Yadav, along with other labourers — Rangilal, Ranjit Khuswag, Jetal Jalawadia and Anil Singh — managed to escape from the compartment with severe burn injuries, fractures and broken limbs.

Captain Deulkar said the use of gas cutters for dismantling pipelines around the engine room is illegal as per ship-breaking norms. “Rules stipulate that these pipelines,which have chances of fuelling a fire, should be dismantled from the joint using spanners or cutters without using flames.”

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