This week, an old ship has anchored at the Gadani shipbreaking yard, even though Interpol had issued a warning as the ship contained toxic chemicals. While the Environment Protection Agency of Balochistan has sealed the plot where the ship is anchored, and an investigation has been launched to check the mercury levels aboard the ship, there are many questions that come to mind.
Foremost being, how did the ship even get to the Gadani yard in the first place? As per the Basel Convention of 2004, old ships that have been categorised as ‘toxic waste’ cannot leave their home country for scrapping without the explicit permission of the importing country. This law was set into place following many developed countries sending off their retired ships to mostly South Asian countries for scrapping, causing an environmental crisis in the poor countries. As a result of these regulations, Gadani was one of the shipbreaking yards to be adversely affected. Even in this most recent case, Bangladesh and India had refused to scrap the ship due to the high levels of mercury and other chemicals on board. Curiously, the deputy direc¬tor of Balochistan’s Environment Depar¬t¬ment stated that no such permission had been granted to the ship owner for scrapping at the Gadani yard. The authorities are now investigating how the ship got here.
Interpol’s warning regarding the presence of toxic metals and gases is not unfounded though. In 2011, four Bangladeshi workers died after inhaling toxic gases as they worked in a compartment of an old ship to dismantle it. Had the ship in question at Gadani not been investigated, a similar or perhaps worse loss of life could be possible. It was only last year that 17 people had died as a result of soya bean dust, an aeroallergen, and toxic material in the air due to pet-coke handling at Karachi’s Keamari Port. It is imperative for the government to thoroughly investigate how this ship was able to reach Gadani without permit and ensure strict measures to prevent any further accidents.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2021.