(Written by Qadeer Tanoli)
18 March 2012 – The absence of adequate safety measures at the Gadani Ship-breaking Yard has resulted in five deaths and 13 injuries since January 1, 2012. These accidents are primarily because the workers are not being provided with medical facilities or safety gear such as helmets and boots which could possibly prevent such accidents.
The Gadani Ship-breaking Yard is currently experiencing high levels of activity, with scores of ships being dismantled at the yard every day. However, because of the lack of medical facilities and safety equipment, there have been numerous cases of deaths and injuries.
On March 9, a labourer named Muhammad Akmal, 42, who used to work as a foreman for dismantling ship cabins, died due to a leakage of toxic gas. He was attempting to open one of the ship’s cylinders when he was poisoned by the toxic gas.
On March 8, Khalil Ahmad, a 35-year-old scrap salesman, died when he was struck by the arm of a heavy lifting machine.
Furthermore, on March 14 two brothers, who were passing through the yard, were also hit by a heavy lifting machine. The elder brother, Muhammad Ali, aged 24, was killed on the spot. The younger brother, Gulzar, suffered serious injuries and had to be shifted to Karachi for treatment.
According to the labourer’s representatives, the driver of the heavy machine lifter has limited vision when moving on roads due because of the size of the forklift. The representatives explained that a second person is needed to assist the driver when he is moving the machine.
Another case that place on January 27, involved a labourer, Nasir Baloch, who was working at plot No 125. Baloch received serious head injuries when he was hit by a falling steel plate. He was shifted to a private hospital in Karachi for treatment; however, he breathed his last on February 2.
On February 11 another worker, Muhammad Ismail, while attempting to open the cover of an oil tank, fell down stairs due a leak of toxic gas. Another worker, Kamran, lost conscious because of a gas leak. Fortunately, he wasn’t poisoned by the gas and regained consciousness shortly after.
On March 13 eight workers received serious injuries at Plot No 99 because of another untoward accident. The workers, who were identified as Saif-ul-Islam, Abdul Rahman, Abdul Wahid Baloch, Shabi, Faisal, Akram, Mazar Baloch and Lal Bukhsh, were working on the deck of a ship, when a cylinder filled with carbon dioxide gas exploded. The men received serious injuries from the blast’s shrapnel.
Finally, Muhammad Khan, a labourer who was working at Plot No 54, suffered head-injuries on March 15th when a string ladder that he using broke. Khan received serious head-injuries because of the fall.
The President of the Ship Breaking Democratic Workers Union, Bashir Mehmoodani, informed The News that such incidents were a routine, and that the authorities didn’t seem at all interested in taking these serious matters into consideration.
He said that even though there was a government hospital at Gaddani, it did not have the equipment to treat the workers, and did not have even a single bed.
He said that though the ship breaking yard spans over 13 square kilometers, it only had a single ambulance, which had
been donated by the Government of Balochistan. He said there are 130 plots at the yard, and that ideally, each and every plot should have at least one ambulance, so that in the case of an accident the worker could be shifted to a hospital immediately.
He said ships from 5,000 tons to 50,000 tons are dismantled at the yard and that the Balochistan Development Authority (BDA) charged Rs20 per ton as tax from the ship owners. He said the BDA collects around Rs5 million from dismantling of a single ship that weighs 10,000 tons, and thus makes several millions of rupees every year. However, Mehmoodani said that the authorities, regardless of these high profit margins, were doing nothing to take the welfare of the workers into account.
The Gadani Ship-breaking Yard is located around 40km away from Karachi and just 20km away from Hub Chowki. Mehmoodani said that his union had been demanding safety gear and other social security benefits for the workers, but that nothing had been done as yet in this regard.
He said that the workers had, in February 2009, gone on strike in protest of the safety conditions. The strike was called off once their employers had been give assurances that their demands would be fulfilled. Mehmoodani claimed, however, that the only change made by the owners was a 40 % increase in the worker’s daily wages, and that there had been no changes in the safety regulations or equipment.