ISLAMABAD: The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has offered to investigate last month’s Gadani shipyard blaze to ascertain the exact number of fatalities it led to, claiming that more than 200 labourers from the province alone perished in the deadly accident.
A series of explosions on November 1 ignited a massive fire on the 24,000-ton decommissioned vessel MT Aces, which continued to burn for the next four days. Although the commissioner of Kalat division — of which Gadani is a part — initially told the media that only 26 workers were killed in the accident, his assertion was soon contradicted by the Balochistan chief minister’s special assistant Jan Achakzai, who claimed that over 70 workers were killed and some 90 others were missing after the incident.
Now, K-P Labour Minister Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli has suggested that the real toll could be much higher. “More than 200 workers from K-P died in the accident at the Gadani shipyard,” she told The Express Tribune. Many more were missing, she said.
“I am sure that the authorities in Balochistan are trying to hide the truth,” Anisa claimed, accusing the province’s authorities of protecting the interest of the ship owner, who is bound to financially compensate the victims’ families.
According to the minister, what makes her concerned is that a majority of those killed, wounded or missing in the accident belonged to her province. She said a fresh inquiry into the incident is essential to determine the exact extent of the losses. “My department can consider initiating an investigation with the cooperation of the Balochistan government,” she said.
Demanding financial compensation for the heirs of the victim workers, Anisa said it was necessary to have the exact number of the victims whose families should be financially compensated by the government of Balochistan and the ship owners.
In his final report last month, a one-man inquiry commission formed by the Balochistan government endorsed the Kalat commissioners’ claim about the deaths. Balochistan Finance Secretary Akbar Hussain, who comprised the commission, refused to give The Express Tribune any details from his report, but claimed only four labourers were missing. He admitted that some others were wounded, but declined requests for an actual figure.
Following the inquiry, the Balochistan government paid Rs 1.3 million to each heir of only the four deceased workers who hailed from Gadani. The provincial minister for Balochistan Development Authority, Hamid Achakzai, distributed the cheques among the heirs on November 25. However, the government did not pay any financial assistance to the heirs of few injured who were invited by the authorities to receive the compensation amount.
The K-P minister made her statement after a resolution unanimously passed by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on December 6 urged the federal and Balochistan governments, and the ship owner to arrange financial compensation for deceased workers belonging to K-P.
Fears that the Balochistan government is hiding the true extent of the Gadani tragedy are stoked further by the behaviour of the cell formed to receive claims from victims’ families. The cell, headed by an assistant commissioner from Gadani, has not even opened for a day, a local journalist said.
The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) has also expressed its doubts about the Balochistan government’s claimed toll for the incident. Senior NCHR member Fazila Aliyani said her commission is conducting an investigation to ascertain the facts about the human losses in the Gadani fire.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2016.