Ship-breaking at Gadani: Unsafe and unfair for ordinary workers
Even basic precautions like helmets and gloves are not provided to ship-breakers in Gadani. Their lives are in danger.
Ship-breaking, the process in which defunct ships are broken up to obtain reusable steel and other materials, is a major industry in Pakistan. Reviving from a slump that almost forced it to shut down, the industry is once again seeing its fortunes perk up.
Pakistan’s sole ship-breaking yard is situated at Gadani, about 50 kilometres northwest of Karachi. Once the largest ship-breaking yard in the world, it now ranks number three after the Alang Ship Breaking Yard in India and the Chittagong Ship Breaking Yard in Bangladesh. Stretched along a 10-km long beachfront, it consists of 132 ship-breaking plots. Currently, the Gadani yard has an annual capacity of breaking up to 125 ships of all sizes, including oil tankers. Over one million tonnes of steel are scavenged per year. Much of this material is sold within the country. Another feather in its cap is its efficiency; a ship that is broken within 30 to 45 days at Gadani takes more than six months to be broken at the Alang and Chittagong yards.
According to the Pakistan Ship-Breaking Association, more than 12,000 people are employed in the yard at present. While it is an encouraging figure in the face of the current dismal unemployment situation in Pakistan, many questions have been raised regarding its working conditions. It was recently revealed that even basic precautions like helmets and gloves are not provided to the workers. Their lives are in constant danger as stripping down ships is mainly done with very little mechanical assistance. A sudden snap of cables can mercilessly kill or injure many workers at a time. Moreover, prolonged inhalation of toxic fumes can cause diseases, some of which can be fatal. No proper medical facilities are available on the site itself and most of the emergency cases have to be rushed 50 km to reach the nearest hospital.
Being a developing country, Pakistan is considered an ideal haven for dismantling ships. The industry pays as little as $4 per day to workers in the absence of stringent implementation of environmental, safety and human rights laws. While it is agreed that Pakistan’s economy needs this industry to survive, ensuring a safe environment for workers is imperative in order for the industry to advance.
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