What we don’t know is how many died in the Gadani shipyard on 1 November 2016 – there’s no record of the names or the number of workers who were trapped in an inferno that blazed for days and peppered metal debris over a two kilometre radius.
On 24 November, Pakistan’s National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) reported 28 confirmed deaths, and over 40 severely burned workers in hospital. Few were expected to survive. Some family members, with no word on the fate of workers who had not been seen since the fire engulfed the ship, were still combing morgues and hospitals in Karachi, an hour’s drive from the shipyard. At least 20 families had by then approached NTUF, seeking help locating missing workers.
The government could not confirm who was working on the ship. Up to 250 informal workers had been hired to dismantle the vessel just two days earlier, when the 24,000-ton Japanese oil tanker MT Aces entered the yard, one of the world’s biggest. Many are unaccounted for.
“The government’s apathy towards the workers’ plight can be gauged from the fact that they have still not been provided with any sort of financial aid nor has any official bothered to visit them to at least inquire about the incident or extend condolence,” commented NTUF deputy general secretary Nasir Mansoor. In the immediate wake of the explosion and fire, NTUF announced three days of mourning and a strike at all the country’s shipbreaking yards.
Two days before the tragedy, Gadani shipbreaking workers had attended an NTUF-organised demonstration in front of the Karachi Press Club, demanding the government of Pakistan enact a new law in line with the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships.
In the following weeks, NTUF organised similar protests, putting forward the same demands. So far, the government’s only response has been to shut down the shipyard, leaving thousands without work.
|COLLUSION CONCLUSION "Gadani is not only a graveyard of ships but also of labourers,” NTUF’s Nasir Mansoor, centre, told journalists at a Karachi press conference. “The responsibility for these deaths lies on the shoulders of the ship breakers. The authorities, including police and labour department, have colluded with the yard owners to let them get away with these murders."
|GLOBAL FIGHT "We deplore this terrible industrial homicide, and mourn the victims together with their families and friends,” said Kan Matsuzaki, director for shipbuilding and shipbreaking at the global union federation IndustriALL. “We will strengthen our campaign and action to combat the unacceptable health and safety conditions in Gadani. The government must immediately take practical measures to protect human lives at the yards, as well as fundamental workers’ rights."
|SMOKING GUN The newly recruited shipbreaking workers were instructed to start dismantling the oil tanker with gas cutting torches while flammable fuel was still in its tanks. The horror that followed was wholly predictable.
|TERRIBLE FATE Families gathering outside the burns hospital found the severely injured workers recovered from the ship had little chance of survival. The remains of many others unable to escape the ship may have been lost for ever in the fire.
|MORE PUNISHMENT Unions say instead of closing the yard, the government should ensure it operates safely and should provide compensation to those affected by the disaster. They estimate 12,000 workers depend on the Gadani yard for their livelihood. Apoorva Kaiwar, regional secretary for the global union for the sector, IndustriALL, said: “Closing the Gadani shipyard is a cynical attempt to divert attention away from the failure to make shipbreaking safer, and it amounts to the collective punishment of workers. The yards must reopen, and the government must work with unions to change the industry.”
|PRESCIENT WARNING On 30 October 2016, two days before the explosion and fire claimed dozens of lives, a mass demonstration of Gadani workers organised by the union NTUF had called for occupational health and safety improvements in the deadly shipbreaking yard and for a new safety law.
It was as predictable as it was deadly. There was still highly flammable, toxic fuel in the oil tanker when workers were instructed to start cutting the vessel apart with gas torches. The ship was a tragedy in waiting.
|•||National Trade Union Federation Pakistan
|•||IndustriALL shipbreaking campaign|
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