UPDATED: Deadly Shipbreaking Fire in Pakistan Yard
An explosion on a tanker at the Gadani shipbreaking yard in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province today killed 17 people and injured dozens more, according to various local news reports.
Three of the injured were reported in critical condition. Fifty victims are reported being trated for burns. Thirty of the shipyard workers are still missing.
Hundreds of people were reported yesterday to have been trapped in the shipbreaking yard which was still, hours after the explosions, “engulfed in flames” according to reports quoting Pakistan’s Deputy General Secretary of the National Trade Union Federation.
The fire began after eight explosions occurred when the vessel was being dismantled using hot welding torches. Around 100 people were working on a ship at the time. Some workers were reported trapped inside the ship, while others able to exit the ship from above threw themselves into the sea.
The incident comes after the safety of shipbreaking yards in South Asia hit the global spotlight. The shipping giant Maersk, after decommissioning its ships, was encouraging them to be scrapped in yards which the company acknowledged did not live up to accepted safety standards.
Maersk at first defended its practice by saying it was working to reform conditions from the inside. The carrier also justifying its use of the yards for their low labor costs and the high prices for scrap steel that prevail in that part of the world. Maersk later reversed itself and said it would no longer use unsafe shipbreaking yards.
Police reports indicate that the explosions occurred while laborers were cutting the body of ship through welding.
Rescue teams reached the site and tried to control the blaze. The injured were transferred to local hospitals.
Gadani, located on Pakistan’s coast 37 miles northwest of Karachi, is the world’s third-largest shipbreaking yard, but it has seen better days. In the 1980s, Gadani was the number one shipbreaking yard in the world, with more than 30,000 worker. But competition from newer facilities in India and Bangladesh resulted in Gadani’s shrinkage. Today the yard produces less than one-fifth of the scrap it produced in the 1980s and its payroll dropped to around 6,000.