On 22 September 2014, 27-year old worker Prasant Dakua was killed while working on the beached vessel “King Justus” in Alang, India. The Platform has reported his case in the South Asia Quarterly Update #3. The official explanation was that Prasant had fallen from a ladder. Apparently he had worked without any safety harness on the ship, which had been bought by Malwi Ship Breaking. Another colleague was severely injured. The Platform researched the case together with German broadcasting channel ARD/NDR in India and in Hamburg, where the former ship owners are based.
The story revealed illustrates the lack of occupational health and safety measures for workers in Alang. It shows that managers sometimes seek to cover up the real reasons behind accidents to shift the blame on to the worker, and to deny the compensation payment that should go to the victim’s family.
Prashant had married in his home village three months before his death. His father had taken a loan to pay for the wedding – a loan meant to be paid back with the help of Prashant’s wage from the Alang shipbreaking yard. When Prasant died, his young wife was pregnant. The yard management did not contact the family in order to at least pay the legal compensation that was due. The safety manager of Malwi shipbreaking was quoted by ARD/NDR as saying that the yard did not know where the worker came from. They had not been able to identify his family. The manager added that if the family could be found, they would pay the compensation to them. By simply asking Prasant’s fellow workers, the team of German journalists found Prasant’s parents in a village in Orissa after a couple of days.
Prasant’s parents (Picture: Jürgen Webermann, NDR)
Although Prasant’s father is old and sick he decided to cross all of North India by train to demand his legal right from Malwi Ship Breaking. The old man had to hold out for two weeks in front of the shipbreaking yard before he finally received a payment of approximately 2500 Euro. The amount helps him to pay back the debts – but it will not cover the fact that the old couple, Prasant’s widow and baby have lost their source of income.
Not only had the yard tried to deny the family’s right to compensation, they had also tried to cover up the real reason behind the accident. Fellow workers reported that the victim’s face was burnt and disfigured. One colleague who had shared a room with Prasant in Alang said: “This must have been a gas explosion”.
The Platform has witnessed before that yard managers had tried to cover up explosions – obvious signs of bad working practices, the lack of safety measures and inadequate training of the workers – and to explain that a worker had not been careful enough. Malwi Ship Breaking is member of SRIA, the association of Indian shipbreakers. The Platform asks SRIA to ensure that the rights of families to receive compensation after a worker’s death is guaranteed in all cases. Moreover, the Platform demands that a transparent and truthful record of all severe and fatal accidents is kemp in order to be able to identify all risks and implement better safety measures in the future.