The Indian Express – 5 workers die in explosion, fire on ship at Alang

7 October 2012 - An explosion and subsequent fire on-board a beached tanker at the Alang-Sosiya Ship Recycling Yard killed five workers and severely injured two others on Saturday, officials said.

The fire broke out at 12.45 pm on the 163-metre-long MT Union Brave, a tank-ship purchased recently by Bhavnagar-based Kiran Ship Breaking Co. for recycling. The vessel was beached at plot 82.

Witnesses said the fire appears to have broken out after workers used blow torches to cut open a compartment near the pump-room towards the rear part of the ship.

Workers in other parts of the yard did much of the rescue work and cut open more parts to pull out their trapped co-workers.

They apparently found two workers on a higher part of the ship and pulled them out, but could not enter deep enough to rescue five others who were trapped in the inferno.

“It appears the workers may have used blow-torches instead of unscrewing the nuts and bolts with spanners to take the compartments apart, which is the safe way to do it,” said an official stationed at the yard.

The fire was brought under control and emergency responses wrapped up around 6 pm, said a witness.

By then, five workers were charred to death while the other two were shifted on ambulances — one belonging to the 108 emergency service and another owned by the Ship-Recycling Association — to Sterling Hospital in Bhavnagar city, about 50 kms away, with severe burn injuries.

Although the identities of the deceased workers could not be immediately ascertained, officials said they were most likely from northern Indian states.

More than half of the tank-ship had already been cut apart as part of the recycling process, said an official.

Ships are inspected by officials from up to six agencies before they are allowed to beach at Alang-Sosiya; agencies such as the Explosives Department, Gujarat Pollution Control Board and Industrial Safety certify that a vessel is free from any material that may lead to such accidents before beaching permission is granted. An official of the Gujarat Maritime Board said an investigation would be underway by Sunday or Monday to find out what exactly happened. Saturday’s tragedy puts the total death toll at Asia’s largest ship-recycling facility at 11 so far this year.

The Gujarat Maritime Board had just last week signed a long-delayed MoU with the 108 emergency service to station an ambulance there, but a spokesperson for GVK EMRI, which runs the service, admitted no ambulance is permanently stationed there yet and would be done so “within 45 days”.