19 May 2003- RAJKOT/AHMEDABAD: Six people were killed and five sustained severe injuries in Alang on Monday afternoon after an explosion ripped an oil tanker, moored at plot number five at the world’s biggest ship-breaking yard.
This is the second major accident at Alang in a span of three months, following the February 22 fire that had left six dead.
The explosion took place near the engine room of the retired ocean-liner, ‘Inville’, around 2.45 pm while labourers were engaged in ship breaking with gas cutters, said Bhavnagar deputy superintendent of police HB Barot. “Investigation is on and the cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained,” he said.
According to sources at Alang-Sosia, the explosion rocked the area in the afternoon and dense smoke billowed from yard number five.
Though there was no fire, two fire-fighters along with back-up water supply, were rushed to the spot.
“The explosion which was of high intensity generated a lot of heat and smoke and have to be controlled,” said a police official.
‘Inville’ was beached in March and the work to dismantle it has been on for some weeks now. According to sources, the ship was originally an oil tanker but, over the last eight years, it was being used for carrying bulk cargo.
As per record, on an average, two deaths are reported every month from Alang which breaks down 2.5 million tons of steel annually.
Sources pointed out that the conditions in Alang have hardly changed since the devastating fire on ‘Ameena’ which killed six labourers in February.
Ship breakers, who have to face accidents of this kind, live a hard life, spending days inside dark compartments of giant ocean liners and carrying loads on their back. To add to their miseries, their compulsions are often exploited by the owners of the shipbreaking yard.
While the industry has a turnover of Rs 3,500 crore, labourers working there do not even have a proper toilet for themselves.
At times, ship-yard owners do not have them on their registers lest they might have to pay compensation in case of death or accident.
For the 30,000 labourers, who are yet to organise themselves, Alang does not offer enough provision to deal with situations such as fire and safety standards are not adequate.
“Safety norms are not adhered to, and rules are often violated with the knowledge of authorities, on grounds that business is not good,” says a police official.
Some rules were formed under Safety Regulations in 2000 which were to be followed compulsorily by all ship-breakers.
According to sources, norms which were forwarded for accordance of notification status are still stuck at the secretariat in Gandhinagar.
Even the issue of basic requirement of a general hospital reached the Supreme Court over the issue as to who would fund the setting up of the unit to cater to the local health problems.