(Written by Qadeer Tanoli)
5 July 2013 - Four workers met accidental deaths at the Gadani ship-breaking yard in two days (June 30-July 1) owing to the absence of any first aid and medical facility there, The News learnt on Wednesday.
Sarzameen slipped from a ship’s deck and fell to death in the tank while working at plot numbers 23 and 24.
On June 30, a gas cylinder exploded with a huge bang at another ship at plot number 32 while being dismantled, which claimed the life of a worker, Naseebzada, and left two others, Ashraf Lohar and Fayyaz, seriously injured. Both the injured workers expired last Monday (July 1) at a private hospital in Karachi.
According to their colleagues, the explosion was so powerful that it hurled Naseebzada off the ship into the sea from where his body was recovered.
President Ship Breaking Mazdoor Union Bashir Mahmoodani has told this correspondent that around 15,000 workers earn their livelihood at the Gadani ship- breaking yard in harsh conditions. He says no safety equipment is available to the workers of this industry.
There is only one ambulance at the entire yard, which consists of 130 plots owned by around 40 people.
The Gadani yard has no first aid facility and in case of any incident the victims have to be taken to the Rahman Hospital in Banaras, Karachi, 50 kilometres from the yard. The ambulance charges Rs2,500 for taking casualties to the hospital.
Mahmoodani says that while dismantling a ship, workers have no knowledge about which stuff they are working on. “The labourers usually have no idea whether they are working on a tank that contains some poisonous gas, petrol or some other dangerous chemical. These are the reasons why many accidents occur at the yard and claim the lives of several workers or leave them disabled.”
He says the authorities concerned have turned a blind eye on these violations of labour rules and regulations.
Mahmoodani says only eight to 10 workers are registered with the Employees Old-age Benefits Institution (EOBI) at a plot out of a total of 400 workers engaged at the entire yard.
The deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation, Nasir Mansoor, says the ship-breaking industry happens to be a huge source of revenue generation for the government but at the same time it needs specific legislation for the welfare of workers on the pattern of that for mineworkers.
He says that generally each ship carries a toxic chemical asbestos that prevents eruption of fire, but during the dismantling of a ship this chemical sometime penetrates into the lungs of labourers and could not be removed, which subsequently causes the death of affected workers.
Nasir says enacting proper legislation would help ensure taking precautionary measures to avoid the toxic effects of such chemicals on labourers as well as keeping the environment free of pollution.