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Pakistan: Workers strike as shipyard death toll rises

3 November, 2016The death toll from the fire in the Gadani shipbreaking yard has risen to 21, with as many as 150 still trapped in the burning ship.

A fire is raging aboard an oil tanker in the shipbreaking yard of Gadani, Pakistan, with up to 150 workers trapped inside. A gas container exploded inside the oil tanker on Tuesday, and firefighters are battling to control the blaze.

Our affiliates report that efforts to rescue the trapped workers have been in vain, and firefighters lack the foam needed to tackle chemical fires. 70 workers are in hospital, 15 in critical condition with severe burns.

The National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan (NTUF) has called a three day strike and period of mourning at the shipyards, which employ about 9,000 workers.

NTUF intends to file murder charges against the ship owners and contractor, and to file a constitutional petition in the higher court against the responsible government departments, including labour, social security and the environment.

The oil tanker was built in 1982 in Japan, and arrived at plot no. 54 at the Gadani yard on 15 October, with 250 workers enlisted to dismantle it. The ship had Indonesian owners before being sold to the Gadani shipbreaking company Ghafoor, but changed its registration to Djibouti weeks before arrival. The name of the ship was changed at this point from Federal 1 to Aces.

The blast occurred due to the presence of inflammable and toxic gases inside the fuel tank of the ship. Workers were forced to start the dismantling process before the fuel tank could be cleaned of leftover fuel.

The breaking of a ship is done with a gas wielding process, which led to this disaster. The explosion was so intense that heavy metal sheets were seen flying into the air, and later found up to two kilometers away.

Nasir Mansoor of NTUF said:

“Accidents like this have become routine. Gadani is not only a graveyard of ships but also of labourers.

“The responsibility of these deaths lies on the shoulders of the ship breakers. The authorities, including police and the labour department, have colluded with the yard owners to let them get away with these murders.

“The mighty ship breakers rule and workers are treated as if they were not even human.

The NTUF has campaigned for the rights of shipbreaking workers for a decade, most recently on October 30, when workers demanded their right to occupational health and safety.

In the wake of this latest disaster, the NTUF is demanding a dramatic change in safety measures in the yards, as well as compensation for the injured and the families of the dead workers.

The deputy commissioner of the Lasbela district has ordered that all work at Gadani stop. Police have arrested the contractor, and ordered the arrest of the ship owner and the chairman of the shipbreakers’ association.

IndustriALL Global Union has written to the prime minister of Pakistan, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, to urge the country to ratify the Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships.

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said:

“Consistent negligence of safety measures and a disregard for the rule of law by employers and authorities has made Gadani a killing field.

"It is not acceptable that the shipbreaking workers in Pakistan have to risk their life every day to earn a livelihood."

Gadani is the world's third largest shipbreaking yard, made up of 132 plots located a 10 km long beachfront at Gadani, Pakistan, about 50 kilometres northwest of Karachi.