12 November 2016

Gadani blast: Mystery deepens over exact number of workers aboard vessel

KARACHI: Even 10 days after a deadly blaze swept through the Gadani ship-breaking yard, it is not clear how many people were actually working aboard the decommissioned oil tanker MT Aces.

Police say that lead contractor Gulzameen – who kept a record of the workers and was perhaps the only man who could have known the exact number that day — died in a subsequent explosion.

According to SHO Gadani Rehmatullah Chattha, no other documentation has so far been found anywhere.

The heirs of the victims and their co-workers, however, have a different story to tell. “An attendance register was kept at the ship-breaking yard office,” tells Abdul Rehman, a survivor who suffered scarring on one side of his face in the fire. “I marked my attendance that day. So did everyone else.”

The death toll from the blaze rose up to 29 after three more persons succumbed to their injuries.

Until now, 10 families have come forward to look for their missing loved ones. Workers claim there were around 250 people hired for dismantling the ship. But Additional SP Investigations, Hub, Zia Mandokhel ‘confirmed’ the presence of just 139 workers. Of these 26 died on the spot, 28 were critically injured while seven others were hospitalised. All the others, he said, have since been discharged.

False claim of compensation

A man named Gul Akhtar, son of Gulfam Shahzad, who was counted among the dead, was found alive in his house when one of his relatives went to offer Fateha. The man was accused of trying to claim the compensation offered by the ship-breakers and the Balochistan government.

Heirs of the blast victims say they are still waiting for the disbursement of financial aid.

One of the survivors, Rehman, denied the police officer’s claim. “We have been left on our own. No one came to sympathise with us,” a teary-eyed Rehman said. “The blast was so intense that it propelled me into the sea … I swam until a fishing boat rescued me.”

Bashir Mehmoodani, the president of the ship-breaking labor union, negated claims that compensation had been paid.

“This is a lie,” he asserted. “They have not even visited the (injured) victims,” he said. No action, he said, has been taken against those responsible for the accident. “They remain beyond the reach of the law because of their financial and political clout.”

Nasir Mansoor, the deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), maintained that ship-breakers, their association, contractors and sub-contactors and officials of the customs, environment and labour departments, social security institution and the EOBI should equally share the blame for the incident.

All of them, he said, should have ensured a safe work environment.

The police have so far arrested just three people – a sub-contractor, Farooq, manager Abdul Hafeez and another unnamed employee.

According to sources, the owner of the vessel, Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor, is in Karachi and authorities are balking at his arrest on account of pressure from different political elements.

The NTUF and ship-breaking workers’ union are planning to stage a sit-in on the RCD Highway if their demands go unmet.

They want the heirs of deceased workers to be paid Rs3 million and the injured to receive Rs500,000 in compensation. In addition, they have demanded the arrest of all those responsible for the incident, resumption of work in the ship-breaking yard, maintenance of health and safety standards, implementation of labour laws, as well as ratification of the Hong Kong convention on ship-breaking.

Source: tribune. 10 November 2016

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