By Zia Qureshi, Weekly Pulse, August 19, 2013
Gadani ship-breaking yard is the world’s third largest ship-breaking yard. The yard consists of 132 ship-breaking plots located across a 10-km-long beachfront at Gadani, about 50 kilometers northwest of Karachi.
In the 1980s, Gadani was the largest ship-breaking yard in the world, with more than 30,000 direct employees. However, competition from newer facilities in Alang, India and Chittagong, Bangladesh resulted in a significant reduction in output, with Gadani, today, producing less than one fifth of the scrap it produced in the 1980s. The recent reduction in taxes on scrap metal has led to a modest resurgence of output at Gadani, which now employs around 6,000 workers. Gadani currently has an annual capacity of breaking over a hundred ships of all sizes, including supertankers and large cargo-ships.
During the 1970s and 80s, ship-breaking peaked as an industry here in Pakistan, and Gadani was for a time the largest breaking yard in the world. Today in Pakistan, ship-breaking provides a sizeable amount of steel that is required for various development and industries. The steel is stripped from ships systematically after they arrive on shore, and then it is sent off to be further processed.
Dragged ashore and harvested for scrap metal and equipment, many of these ships are just skeletons as they wait any number of months to reach complete disassembly, their rusted hulls listing and breaking apart, half-submerged in the water. This is a graveyard unlike any other, where the bodies of ships lay silent, enticing curious explorers, history buffs and especially the mechanically inclined to take a look at the now mostly useless fleet of ghost ships.
Parts of these ships will live on for years, of course, as part of mechanical or electrical assemblies of newer, faster ships. Others are melted down and formed into new shapes entirely. But any visitor without any investment in the salvage will tell you — it’s what’s been left behind that is most interesting.
At Gadani the entire scrapping process is manual. The workers bear the brunt as ship-breaking entails carrying heavy sheets and metal chunks. In many cases, the weight they carry far exceeds what is allowed by the Factories Act. Numerous workers have also lost their lives either by being struck by falling objects or by hazardous substances including asbestos fibers.
Ship-breaking at Gadani is inherently dangerous and suffers severely from lax safety standards and unregulated working conditions which of course lead to high injury and death rates. 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 yard is currently experiencing high levels of activity, with scores of ships being dismantled at the yard every day. However, because of lack of medical facilities and safety equipment, there have been numerous cases of deaths and injuries.
In spite of signing and ratifying the Basel Convention in June 1994 and the Rotterdam Convention in 2005, the ship-breaking industry in Pakistan continues to be a source of human causalities. These conventions require that parties strictly protect human health and environment against the adverse effects which may result from the generation and management of hazardous wastes. Gadani incident is a clear indication of the poor implementation of these international law commitments.
Therefore it is vital to address the issue of ship-breaking in Pakistan and its negative impact on the health and environment. It is important to not only adhere to the international commitments regarding ship-breaking, but also adhere to international guidelines set out by the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The issues at Gadani can be only resolved if the state does away with providing financial assistance to operations that are in contravention of the Basel Convention, such as operations involving ships with extensive asbestos.
It is crucial for Pakistan to also look at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) guidelines to ensure that safety standards are met when employing labor in the ship-breaking industry. The country must work towards introducing a policy in line with the ILO guidelines that includes the control of the import and preparation of ships for breaking, rights of the workers in the ship breaking industry and ensuring proper working conditions at the ship breaking site.
All laws and regulations in Pakistan must reflect the information provided on ship breaking by International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the Basel Convention.