23 May 2017

Working conditions at Gadani ship-breaking yard ‘still bad’:

Seminar told no efforts made since November 2016 when around 40 workers had died in oil tanker explosion

Despite the loss of almost 40 lives of workers at the Gadani ship-breaking yard since November 2016, no efforts have been made by the state or the owners to improve the conditions.

This was stated by Nasser Mansoor, general secretary of the Pakistan National Trades Unions Federation (PNTUF), while addressing a seminar at the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences on Saturday evening.

Departments like the police and the environment took bribes from the owners to do their bidding against the labourers, he alleged.

The capitalist owners, he said, spent Rs4million on having the genuine union of the workers

De-registered. “Now we have a union but our collective bargaining is not recognised.”

Mansoor said there was total blockage of news of accidents that occurred and things were just hushed up.

“There’s no proper sanitary system for the workers, no proper messing. A plate of Daal which may be selling for Rs60 in town sells for Rs90 at Gadani. A Roti which sells for Rs5 in town is likely to cost Rs10 there.

Factories are serving as slaughter houses.”

Industrialists and politician industrialists were not playing the government-mandated minimum wage of Rs14,000 a month to their workers, despite the fact that these politicians were constantly shedding crocodile’s tears for the workers.

He said that at the time of the recent accidents, no government functionary or politician came to enquire after the welfare of the workers. The only person who came with 60 vehicles and generous aid was the late Abdul Sattar Edhi’s son, Faisal Edhi.

The way ship-breaking was being carried out, without any set code, harmful substances were being dumped into the sea polluting marine life, which was such an important source of food and protein, he said.

“It is the people who have to get together against this order and change the narrative,” he said.

Mansoor said all the oppressed and the working classes would have to unite to change the unjust order. He said that there was a deliberate attempt to shut Pakistan Steel to pander to the interests of the steel importers and a section of the bureaucracy. “If the state and the capitalists don’t go by what they have written, sooner or later there’s sure to be a mighty conflagration.”

Mansoor’s talk was preceded by the screening of a movie which showed four case studies of the state of workers after some of those countries went capitalist and workers were taken for a ride. The four case studies were those of Ukraine, Indonesia, Gadani Ship-breaking Works and China.

The movie showed the conditions of the mine workers in Ukraine after independence and the end of the socialist era and China after the country went avowedly capitalist. The condition of Chinese workers is depicted as horrible under capitalism.

Source: the news. 21 May 2017

22 May 2017

Ship Breaking Yard: One killed in Chittagong; safety gears absent

A worker was killed as an iron pipe fell on him yesterday at a ship-breaking yard in Sitakunda upazila of Chittagong.

The deceased was identified as Sachindra Das, 26, son of Jaghdeb Das of South Jahanabad Jelepara of Sonapara in Sitakunda.

According to the inquest report, Sachindra was brought to Chittagong Medical College Hospital with injuries to his neck and head around 1:30am. He was declared dead at the time.

Fellow workers, who brought him to the hospital, said that an iron pipe fell on him when he was cutting a portion of iron equipment in night shift without any safety gear at Kabir Steel Ltd in Chairman Ghata Madambibir Hat.

Police, however, said the victim was an employee of Khawja Ship-Breaking Yard of the same area.

Md Saifullah, sub-inspector of Sitakunda Police Station, said both Kabir Steel Ltd and Khawja Ship-Breaking Yard were owned by Md Shahjahan. “That is probably why wrong company name was entered [into the hospital records]”

The accident took place around 12:10am, said Mangal Das under whom Sachindra was working.

The authority of Khawja Ship-Breaking Yard said the accident occurred on Saturday evening when workers were about to leave the place.

“We gave him primary treatment at our own medical facility and sent him to Chittagong Medical College Hospital as his condition deteriorated,” Shahidul Islam, who identified himself as assistant officer (admin) of the yard, said on phone.

He refuted the allegation that employees worked night shifts without safety gears. But he could not answer to the question as to why the victim had suffered injuries to the head if he wore a helmet.

Md Shahjahan, owner of the ship-breaking yards, could not be reached by phone for comments.

Meanwhile, an unnatural death case has been filed in connection with the incident, according to police.   

Source: the daily star. 22 May 2017

20 May 2017

Courts Criticized After Deaths in Breaking YardsCredit: NGO Shipbreaking Platform - Hanjin Rome beached in Chittagong, Bangladesh

Hanjin Rome
Credit: NGO Shipbreaking Platform - Hanjin Rome beached in Chittagong, Bangladesh

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform reports that two workers lost their lives at Chittagong shipbreaking yards in May, bringing the total death toll this year to six workers.

On 6 May, 26-year-old Shahinoor died at Jamuna Shipbreaking yard after falling whilst working on the Hanjin Rome, the first vessel arrested after the collapse of Hanjin Shipping last year. The vessel was put up for auction by the High Court in Singapore early this year, and the Platform said the vessel was sold to a cash buyer for recycling.

This is not the first time that courts, in deciding on bankruptcy cases, completely ignore the environmental and human repercussions of selling shipping assets to beaches, with the sole purpose of sorting out failed companies’ balance books, says Ingvild Jenssen, Founding Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

Jenssen says deaths on the beaches have also been a direct consequence from bankruptcy cases in Germany, such as the sale of the King Justus to Alang and the Viktoria Wulff to Chittagong.

“That insolvency administrators appointed by the courts in Singapore and Germany have been allowed to trade unprofitable ships to the beaches of South Asia is shocking,” she says.

On 9 May, winch operator Ishaq was hit by a wire cable and died on the spot at KR Steel. According to local sources, KR Steel was dismantling the vessels Sea Zenith and Kota Wisata when Ishaq was killed.

Earlier this year the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (IGLHR) published a detailed account of the fatal accidents that killed 19 workers in Chittagong in 2016. The report includes interviews with workers that describe harsh conditions, lack of protective equipment, exposure to toxic gases and fumes and a constant fear of dying at work:

“There are enclosed dark places on the ship, where there is no ventilation. The cutters go in first [to cut holes in the sides to let light in]. Especially they get sick and nauseous,” a worker reports to IGLHR.

“All of us cutters get sick from the chemicals. It always happens,” other workers add. “I work at night because the owner wanted me to work the night shift,” says a worker, adding, “it is cooler. You sweat less. So for me, it is better. But it is more dangerous. That is the biggest worry: It is very risky. At any time, I could lose my life”.

Chittagong-based Platform member Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) recently organized a human chain and a rally gathering more than 100 workers and their family members.

“Six workers have died this year. Many more workers have suffered serious injuries. Safety and workers’ rights are shamefully being ignored in most yards,” said Muhammed Ali Shahin from YPSA. “Whereas the Bangladesh Shipbreakers’ Association is reluctant to take any action on the yards where workers are dying, the Courts should act immediately to ensure that no yard is allowed to operate in breach of national laws on occupational safety and environmental protection.”

Source: maritime executive. 18 May 2017

18 May 2017

Greece Tops World's Worst Shipping Nation

NGO Shipbreaking Platform Annual Report 2016 listed Greece as number one in World's Worst Shipping Nation followed by China.

It may be surprising for a country whose industry is proud of green technology and engineering solutions, but in 2016 Germany was responsible for the worst shipbreaking practices amongst all shipping nations when one compares the size of its fleet to the number of ships broken irresponsibly.

German owners, banks and ship funds had a staggering 97 ships rammed up on the beaches of South Asia out of a total of 99 vessels sold for demolition. That not being enough, close to 40% were broken in Bangladesh, where conditions are known to be the worst.

Greece wasresponsible for the highest absolute number of ships sold to South Asian shipbreaking yards: 104 ships in total.

Since the Platform started to compile data in 2009, Greek shipping companies have unceasingly topped the list of owners that opt for dirty and dangerous shipbreaking. Other major ship-owning countries like Japan and South Korea sent nearly all of their old vessels for breaking in substandard yards on the beaches of South Asia.

Chinese ship owners sold 43 of their Chinese flagged end-of-life vessels to domestic ship recycling facilities, for which they receive subsidies from their government, while still dumping more than half of their old ships on beaches.

India sold all vessels to beaching facilities, 13 out of 25 were sold to Pakistan and Bangladesh European ship owners are responsible for more than one third of all ships sold for breaking. The total number of EU-owned and/or EU-flagged vessels dismantled in 2016 worldwide were 328: 274 of these ships, representing a jaw-dropping 84% of all European end-of-life ships, ended up in either India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.

In terms of tonnage scrapped, European-owned ships thus represented more than 40% of all end-of-life vessels scrapped on the beaches.

Out of the 274 European vessels that were beached, only 44 were still sailing under European flag. 19 Europeanflagged vessels swapped their flag to a non-EU flag of convenience just weeks before hitting the beach.

The most popular end-of-life flags amongst all vessels scrapped on the beaches in 2016 were Panama, St Kitts and Nevis, Liberia, Comoros, the Marshall Islands and Palau. Palau, St Kitts and Nevis and Comoros are flags that are almost exclusively used by  cash buyers at endof-life.

Source: marine link. 16 May 2017

Bashir Mehmoodani - a Shahenshah on a mission

When the workers' movement at the yard had nearly been crushed, it was Bashir who rejuvenated it, claim workers at the Gadani Shipbreaking Yard. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

KARACHI: Not a sound could be heard other than waves crashing on the beach through the spaces between the decommissioned vessels moored at the Gadani Shipbreaking Yard for dismantling and the sound of cranes dropping heavy metal sheets to the ground. The wind blew fiercely, causing the keffiyeh that was around the head and face of Gul Rehman alias Chacha, a veteran welder, to slip and fall to the ground. He bent down to retrieve the item but it blew ahead, his co-workers laughing as he gave chase.

Amid the workers’ growing cheers for Chacha, a metallic grey Suzuki Mehran honked from behind him. He glanced behind with distaste. Just as he was about to hurl profanity at the driver, he stopped and instead yelled something in Balochi, making both the men smile. Chacha resumed his chase of the keffiyeh while the driver lit a cigarette from a pack of Dunhill Lights before stepping out of the vehicle.

The man had a lean figure of five foot and 10 inches. He wore a white-coloured shalwar kameez and black Peshawari sandals. Shading his eyes were a pair of wayfarer sunglasses.
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As he walked towards the cheering workers, the wind caused his suit mould to his body, revealing that he was even thinner than he appeared. “Salam,” everyone greeted him respectfully, nodding at his similar reply.

The man is Bashir Mehmoodani, president of the Gadani Shipbreaking Yard Workers Union, who, by his fellows, has been dubbed ‘Shahenshah’, a reference to a character played by Indian veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan in one of his blockbuster Bollywood movies. “In the movie, Shahenshah was a friend of the oppressed, so is Bashir,” revealed Muhammad Boota, a worker hailing from Dera Ghazi Khan.

Word on the beach suggested that Mehmoodani assumed the responsibility of the state when it blatantly failed to fulfil it to ensure that at the most dangerous and arguably the second largest shipbreaking yard in the world, only ships come to die, not men. “When the workers’ movement at the yard had nearly been crushed, it was Bashir who rejuvenated it,” lauded Boota.

Chief secretary visits shipbreaking yard in Balochistan

Mehmoodani’s story came into limelight from 2006 when he fought a legal battle with Hubco Power Company over workers’ issue but lost. For him, there was no chance to go back to the power plant so he decided to move to another profession. Meanwhile, he remained active in local politics with the Balochistan National Party – Mengal and resolved people’s issue. His fame had nearly gripped town and then in 2009, a man who he knew from before but had never spoken to, asked him for help.

“Tahir Yusufzai, the then general secretary of the workers union, asked me to lead the movement for labourers because he was forced into exile from the district by the authorities,” Mehmoodani told The Express Tribune at his office located off the road running through the yard. The office is made up of wood from the ships. It has no electricity due to recurring power outages. Instead, sunlight that enters the room from a broken window lights it up enough to see faces of the occupants.

The eight-year-long journey that Mehmoodani has covered at the shipbreaking yard as a labour leader narrated an unusual tale of a common man mustering enough courage to cross paths with the far more powerful and wealthy ship-breakers and even richer contractors and enough muscle to bring them to the table for negotiations. “They wouldn’t listen to us as if we, our lives and our families were of no importance. All they cared for was their profit,” he described, narrating his encounters with the employers.

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“The police, the labour department – everyone was on their payroll. They bought even the journalists to stop the news from Gadani from reaching the outside world. A few years back, you wouldn’t hear about workers’ deaths at the yard while it was happening due to lack of safety,” he recalled. “We resisted. We fought with all that we have. It wasn’t simple. We were arrested and booked in false cases. But we stood firm.”

Having given a considerable portion of his life to the workers’ struggle at Gadani, Mehmoodani, who is now 37-years-old, is proud of only one thing, despite the fact that upon close inspection there are many things for him to be proud of. “I am happy that the workers who, in the past, would be afraid of their employers sacking them if they said anything against them, have gained the courage to talk to them eye to eye,” he said.

On November 1, when 26 workers were killed and dozens others wounded in an oil tanker blast in Gadani, it was Mehmoodani who reached the spot before the authorities and guided the workers through a rescue operation on their own. “Everyone panicked and there was a reason,” said Chacha. “No one has seen or heard about such a fire at the yard, which has been working for more than four decades. It was Bashir who organised them and acted like a general in a time of war.”

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Almost all the victims of the oil tanker fire have been given compensation – Rs1.5 million to each worker killed – by the employers. This is the first time that relief has been given in a relatively short period of time, unlike previous claims that still remain pending either with the employers or with the government. “In this world, it never goes the way you expect it to. You cannot fight crocodiles in a pond overcrowded by them unless you know the art of fighting,” said Mehmoodani.

Source: the express tribune. 01 May 2017