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Pakistan: fair compensation urgently needed for victims of Gadani blaze

24 November, 2016More than three weeks after a deadly fire on an oil tanker at the Gadani shipbreaking yard in Pakistan, workers and dependents of those killed are struggling to survive and get proper medical attention.  

Nineteen-year-old Khuda Bux Gadani suffered severe burns and a broken leg in the disaster: 

"I was working on the top of the ship when all of sudden there was an explosion and within no time the ship caught fire. I could feel my left leg burning and I thought I was going to die. I decided to jump into the sea but it was too shallow, so when I jumped from around 100 feet high (30 metres), I broke my right leg.  I was lying in the water for about an hour until some workers came on a boat and rescued us and took us to hospital, where there were many workers," he said.

Khuda was initially taken to Karachi Civil Hospital, but was later asked to leave and he was taken to a government hospital in Hub city, where there is no burns unit. He lies inside a net to protect his wounds from flies and mosquitoes. There is no air conditioning in the hospital and the windows are left open. Already very poor and helping his father to support a family of ten, he has had no assistance in paying for treatment.

At least 26 workers lost their lives, 50 were wounded and more are missing, believed dead. At the time of the incident, workers were reportedly draining oil from the tanks when sparks from a welding torch set off a massive explosion. The inferno on board the ship raged for two-days with rescue services unable to get close to the ship due to the immense heat.

An investigation by IndustriALL Global Union has also found that dependents of those killed are suffering.

Muhammad Hassan’s 18-year-old son Sanaullah burnt to death in the oil tanker blaze. He was supporting a family of eight as a worker at the Gadani shipbreaking yard.

"He was the only breadwinner and after his death we feel angry that the government is not doing anything to probe into the matter and also not providing any help to us," said Muhammad Hassan.

“I am devastated after the death of my son,” said Sanuallah’s mother, Azeema Hassan. “I sent him to work, not to die, there should be an inquiry and those responsible for the fire should be punished.”

In a visit to the scene of the tragedy, which happened on 1 November, the Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping, Hasil Khan Bizenjo, promised to assist and support the victims.

According to IndustriALL affiliate the NTUF, which represents workers at Gadani, the government has announced compensation of PKR 1.5million (US$14,000) for deceased workers and PKR 100,000 (US$950) for injured workers. However, which the union has rejected the offer and demanded PKR 3 million (US$28,000) for deceased and PKR 0.5million (US$4,700) for injured workers respectively.

In the meantime the shipbreaker and the ship owner, which is ultimately responsible for the safety of the workers, has offered nothing. Tax officials in Pakistan estimate that that each vessel that is recycled creates an average revenue of US$4.5 million on average. Pakistan has the largest shipbreaking industry after China and Turkey.  

The government shut down the yard following the explosion. There are around 12,000 workers at the yard in total, all of whom are unregistered. They too are struggling without work.

NTUF general secretary, Nasir Mansoor, said:  “It’s high time the government recognizes the need for implementation of safety and health standards at yards. It’s very important to register workers with social security and old age benefit institutes, and to allow unionization and right to choose collective bargaining agent democratically. The government should immediately withdraw the order stopping the dismantling of ships and legislate on a shipbreaking code, in consultation with workers representatives and in accordance with the Hong Kong Convention for the safe recycling of ships and ILO guidelines for South Asia.”