The cost of life
There is a reason why fires and other disasters occur so frequently at the Gadani Ship Breaking Yard at Hub in Balochistan. There is an absolute failure to implement rules. This is also the reason why the cost of shipbreaking is lower at Gadani and why international companies send their ships to the site in the search for cheap labour and low costs. But the toll on human life of this failure to enforce even basic safety is immense. In November last year, at least 26 lives were lost when a blast aboard a ship was followed by a huge fire. Some labour unions claim the number of workers killed was much higher. A month later, the ship-breaking facility was reopened, without putting in place the safety measures the government had promised would be ensured. Unsurprisingly, a fire broke out once again aboard an oil tanker, fortunately without causing any loss of life though a number of injuries were suffered. And now, in the second week of January 2017, we have had the third fire in as many months with a blaze caused by the storage of chemical foam aboard a ship resulting in at least five deaths and many more injuries. The owner of the ship, a former office bearer of the Ship Breaking Association, has fled. Such cases rarely lead to anyone being held for accountability. It is noteworthy that the fire in November last year was also aboard one of the ships owned by the same individual.
The picturesque beach at Gadani and the ship-breaking yard adjacent to it then become a place of death and ruin for many families. It is far from certain the compensation they were promised has been handed to them. But even if it was, this cannot alter the fact that fathers, brothers, sons, were taken away forever from their families. Because we think so little of loss of life when it involves the poor and powerless, the tragedies at Gadani have continued. For now, shipbreaking work has been suspended at the yard. It is clear, though, that the Balochistan Labour Department is too ill-equipped to tackle the problem. The voices of labour leaders who have expressed huge concerns over the death toll are rarely heard. The media offers them little space and little time. But somehow, the disasters at Gadani have to be stopped. The provincial government must act before the next fire and put to right the lack of safety which has already consumed scores of lives.