Still no clarity on toxic tanker beached at Pakistani ship-breaking yard

Still no clarity on toxic tanker beached at Pakistani ship-breaking yard
In this photo shared by NGO Shipbreaking Platform on May 31, workers and ship wreckage are seen at a yard in the coastal town of Gadani, Balochistan province, southwestern Pakistan. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 June 2021

Still no clarity on toxic tanker beached at Pakistani ship-breaking yard

Still no clarity on toxic tanker beached at Pakistani ship-breaking yard
  • Interpol warned Pakistan on April 22 ship carrying hazardous material was moving toward it
  • EPA: Responsibility lies with MoD, which points finger at Maritime Security Agency

KARACHI: On April 22, Interpol informed Pakistan that a ship carrying 1,500 tons of hazardous mercury sludge was making its way towards Pakistani waters after being denied permission to dock in Bangladesh.

Despite Interpol’s warnings, the decommissioned FSO Radiant docked at a ship-breaking yard in the coastal town of Gadani in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan on April 30.

Yard workers, unaware of the toxic material on board, began their work demolishing the ship. It was only in late May, 20 days after the vessel had beached, that they became aware of the danger after the story was leaked to the media, prompting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to seal the plot where the ship was anchored and order an inquiry.

By that time, the workers had already cut down the tanker’s stern.

On May 26, a local deputy commissioner, Hasan Waqar Cheema, ordered a probe into who was responsible for the vessel’s docking. The provincial EPA’s fact-finding committee immediately collected samples from the ship.

This week, Liaquat Shahwani, a spokesperson for the Balochistan government, said the inquiry report was ready and had been submitted to “relevant authorities.”

He declined to share the investigation’s findings. But dozens of interviews with officials conducted by Arab News revealed none of the relevant departments are willing to concede responsibility for how the Radiant was allowed to anchor in Pakistan.

According to Imran Saeed Kakar, a deputy director at the EPA, responsibility for the beaching of a vessel lies with the Ministry of Defense (MoD).

A vessel’s owner is required to get approval from the EPA, the Balochistan Development Authority (BDA), and the customs and explosives departments before it can be dismantled, Kakar said, but only once the ship is beached.

“The work of these four government agencies starts only after the vessel is beached and granting permission for beaching is the responsibility of the ministry of defense,” he said.

When contacted, a spokesperson for the MoD said permission for the ship to anchor came from the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA), a subordinate agency of the MoD. Shahwani also said beaching was “the domain of the federal government and its subordinate security agency, the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency.”

A PMSA spokesperson declined to comment despite repeated requests.

However, a ministry of defense statement sent to Arab News after the publication of the story said no official from the ministry had discussed the matter with “any press/media official or [the] writer of [this] article.”

“The concerned [government] authority is rightfully clued up regarding beaching of MT CHERISH (FSO RADIANT) at Gadani,” the statement said, adding that the ministry of maritime affairs had constituted a joint investigation committee to investigate the issue.

IGNORED WARNINGS

Little is known about the Radiant to begin with; the website Vesselfinder says it belongs to a “Som Sg & Tdg LLC.”

Kakar said the ship was Indonesian, though Arab News could not independently verify this. He said it was “a kind of storage vessel which floats at the place of drilling, and in which oil is stored until oil tankers arrive and take it.

“Usually after vessels are auctioned for dismantlement, these are washed but in this specific case, it seems this vessel was sold without washing,” Kakar added.

How the ship landed up in Pakistan, though, remains unclear.

Interpol wrote a letter to Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency on April 22 saying a “hazardous waste contaminated vessel” was traveling to the country’s waters and planning to “illegally dispose 1,500 tons of mercury contaminated oil sludge.” 

Correspondence between different government departments shows that the Ministry of Maritime Affairs had informed the MoD about Interpol’s warning a day before the vessel beached at Gadani on April 29.

And yet, the ship was docked and ship-breaking work was allowed to commence despite the warnings, with yard workers now saying they feared for their lives and were reminded of 2016, when Gadani became the site of a deadly explosion and fire that killed 26 workers who were dismantling an oil tanker.

That tanker had been cleared at Gadani by the same clearing agent, a man named Javed Iqbal, who was responsible for clearing Radiant last month.

Iqbal did not return repeated requests for comment.

‘STRICT ACTION WILL BE TAKEN’

Ship-breaking is considered one of the world’s most dangerous professions by the International Labour Organization, with accidents and fires common. A majority of the world’s ships land for scrapping on the beaches of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, with thousands of workers risking their lives every day tearing down ships at Gadani beach on the coast of the Arabian Sea.

The yard is one of the biggest in the world, with all kinds of ageing vessels, from Japanese ore carriers to Italian passenger ferries, run ashore for scrapping.

“The November 2016 blast flashed before our eyes when we heard about the ship with hazardous mercury,” Gul Mohammed, who has been working at the Gadani yard for two decades, told Arab News.

“After 2016, safety measures were put in place, and those gave us and our families hope that we will not be burnt alive.”

That hope wore very thin last week, he said.

Oil contaminated with high levels of mercury presents a possibly fatal health risk to people coming in close contact, and mercury poisoning is associated with serious medical conditions ranging from disorders of the neurological system to skin, kidney and lung disease.

“If mercury is found in the samples taken for testing as reported by Interpol, the ship will be disposed of in accordance with international guidelines,” the EPA’s Kakar said.

“Strict action will be taken against the owner.”

Meanwhile, Gadani workers say their safety has yet again been compromised.

“A vessel which couldn’t get dismantled anywhere else manages to reach Gadani?” Mohammed Saleem, an official of the Shipbreaking Workers’ Association, asked, adding that action had only been taken once the story was leaked to the media, by which time workers had already cut down the stern of the ship.

 “It was at this same stage that the fire broke out in the ship in 2016 also,” he said. “Had the news not been leaked, the work might not have been stopped.”

Related


America-Israel relations reach crossroads

America-Israel relations reach crossroads
President Joe Biden (L) and Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett. (AP)
Updated 21 June 2021

America-Israel relations reach crossroads

America-Israel relations reach crossroads
  • Bennett’s government says it wants to repair relations with the Democrats and restore bipartisan support in the US for Israel

WASHINGTON: Their countries at crossroads, the new leaders of the United States and Israel have inherited a relationship that is at once imperiled by increasingly partisan domestic political considerations and deeply bound in history and an engrained recognition that they need each other.
How President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett manage that relationship will shape the prospects for peace and stability in the Middle East. They are ushering in an era no longer defined by the powerful personality of long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu, who repeatedly defied the Obama administration and then reaped the rewards of a warm relationship with President Donald Trump.
Bennett’s government says it wants to repair relations with the Democrats and restore bipartisan support in the US for Israel. Biden, meanwhile, is pursuing a more balanced approach on the Palestinian conflict and Iran. The relationship is critical to both countries. Israel has long regarded the United States as its closest ally and guarantor of its security and international standing while the US counts on Israel’s military and intelligence prowess in a turbulent Middle East.
But both Biden and Bennett are also restrained by domestic politics.
Bennett leads an uncertain coalition of eight parties from across Israel’s political spectrum whose main point of convergence was on removing Netanyahu from power after 12 years. Biden is struggling to bridge a divide in his party where near-uniform support for Israel has eroded and a progressive wing wants the US to do more to end Israel’s half-century occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
Shortly after taking office, the new Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, recognized the challenges Israel faces in Washington.
“We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate and House and they are angry,” Lapid said upon taking the helm at Israel’s Foreign Ministry a week ago. “We need to change the way we work with them.”
A key test will be on Iran. Biden has sought to return to the Iran nuclear deal that President Barack Obama saw as a signature foreign policy achievement. Trump withdrew from the pact to cheers from pro-Israel US lawmakers and Israel. Though Iran has not yet accepted Biden’s offer for direct negotiations, indirect discussions on the nuclear deal are now in a sixth round in Vienna.


Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm
Updated 20 June 2021

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm
  • Bangladesh had stalled initiative for nearly two months after failing to procure 30 million doses of Covishield from New Delhi

DHAKA: Bangladesh resumed its nationwide inoculation drive against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with China’s Sinopharm vaccine on Saturday, nearly two months after halting the initiative due to a failed supply of 30 million doses from India.

Starting from January, New Delhi had vowed to deliver the Covishield vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, to Dhaka, in a phased manner.

Bangladesh’s health authorities launched the anti-virus drive in early February after India sent 7 million doses of the Covishield vaccine in two installments.

However, after a sudden spike in COVID-19 infections across the country, New Delhi held back its vaccine exports for domestic consumption, resulting in a stalled supply of the crucial jabs for Dhaka from April.

Bangladesh currently has 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China in recent weeks, which authorities began administering at 67 centers across the country from Saturday.

“We resumed vaccinations on a limited scale, targeting 5.5 million people. It will take two to three weeks to inoculate these people,” Dr. Shamsul Haque, line director at the Directorate General of Health Services, told Arab News.

He added that authorities had devised 10 categories of people to receive the vaccines on a priority basis.

These include frontline health workers; police officials; migrant workers registered with the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training; municipal staff; public school students; employees of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority; and Chinese nationals, among others.

In addition to the 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China, Bangladesh has also signed a deal for an additional 15 million jabs of Sinopharm for an undisclosed amount.

“We are expecting to receive the first batch of the Sinopharm vaccine in July. All the procedures are complete at our end. Now, the Chinese authorities are doing some formalities,” Dr. A. S. M. Alamgir, principal scientific officer of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told Arab News on Sunday.

Alamgir added that nearly 1.4 million people have already registered to receive the first dose of the vaccine.

“Our immediate task is to inoculate these people,” he said, adding that the mass vaccination drive will gain traction next month after more doses arrive.

In addition to China’s Sinopharm vaccines, talks are also under way to procure 1 million doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine from COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing facility for developing countries led by the World Health Organization (WHO), by the first week of August.

“We are also putting maximum effort to source Russia’s Sputnik vaccines. Discussion is at the final stage now. We can expect Sputnik in the country anytime now,” Alamgir said.

Out of 166 million, only 4.3 million Bangladeshis have received both doses of the vaccine, with experts urging the government to “purchase the COVID-19 vaccines from anywhere as soon as possible.”

“We have to complete this mass inoculation drive in 1.5 to 2 years. Otherwise, the immunity derived from the vaccine will start decreasing, and then we will need to administer another booster dose,” Professor Muzaherul Huq, former adviser at WHO Southeast Asia, told Arab News.

He added that the government should also focus on the domestic production of vaccines.  

“Our government can achieve capacity by producing vaccines in the country through technology transfer from other countries,” Huq said.

“It will take only three months to produce vaccine this way. Private sector pharmaceuticals also should be engaged in this regard,” he added.

One way to do this, he explained, is to increase health infrastructure and human resources at the sub-district level to ensure better health services to the public during the pandemic.  

In recent weeks, Bangladesh has witnessed a spike in COVID-19 infections, with a current infection rate of more than 18 percent.

As of Sunday, the country had registered nearly 850,000 cases and over 13,500 deaths since March last year.


UK’s Labour urged to tackle ‘vile Islamophobia’

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Labour Muslim Network (LMN) has urged Sir Keir Starmer to distance himself and the party from claims antisemitism is to blame for falling support in the Islamic community. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 20 June 2021

UK’s Labour urged to tackle ‘vile Islamophobia’

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  • Muslim groups slam claim that party is losing Muslim support due to its efforts to tackle antisemitism
  • Muslim Council of Britain: Any senior Labour official propagating this view ‘should be sacked’

LONDON: Muslim organizations in the UK have condemned a claim by a senior Labour Party strategist that antisemitism among Muslims is responsible for the main opposition party’s decline in popularity.

The anonymous party strategist told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that Labour is “haemorrhaging” support from Muslims due to “what (party leader) Keir (Starmer) has been doing on antisemitism.”

The source claimed that Muslim voters are frustrated by excessive efforts to tackle antisemitism.

The Labour Muslim Network (LMN) on Sunday wrote to Starmer urging him to “urgently and publicly” challenge this view, saying the anonymous claim is a “patently vile, Islamophobic briefing by a ‘senior Labour official’.”

It added: “This racism needs to be challenged urgently and publicly by the Labour leadership and the party as a whole. There can be no hiding behind the anonymity of the source and briefing.

“LMN and Muslim members expect thorough and immediate action. Islamophobia from ‘senior Labour strategists’ cannot be tolerated.”

The accusations have come ahead of the crucial Batley & Spen by-election in England’s northwest, where Labour is set to lose its seat amid declining Muslim support.

A poll has revealed that Labour is set to lose Batley and Spen, with 47 percent of the vote expected to go to the Conservative Party. 

Miqdaad Versi, a media spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Those who have tried to understand, have identified many local issues as well as Labour positions on Palestine, Kashmir and Islamophobia — and being seen to take Muslim voters for granted. If advisors to the Labour leader don’t get this, they shouldn’t be talking about it.”

He added: “Any senior Labour official who tells the media that Muslims are not voting Labour because Muslims support antisemitism, should be sacked. No ifs, no buts.”


Alleged hitman in UK trial admits to killing Lebanese law student 

Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020  in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Supplied: Lancashire Police)
Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Supplied: Lancashire Police)
Updated 20 June 2021

Alleged hitman in UK trial admits to killing Lebanese law student 

Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020  in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Supplied: Lancashire Police)
  • Zamir Raja, 33, is one of eight people on trial accused of her murder
  • Hachem and her family moved as refugees to the UK from Lebanon when she was a young girl

LONDON: An alleged hitman accused of shooting dead a 19-year-old Lebanese woman in the UK has admitted killing her and has changed his plea in the middle of an ongoing trial.

Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in the northern English town of Blackburn, and according to a post-mortem examination, died as a result of the gunshot.

The law student was shopping for groceries at the time, and police confirmed that she was not the intended victim of the shooting, adding that she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Zamir Raja, 33, is one of eight people on trial accused of her murder and has admitted manslaughter after initially denying any involvement.

Despite Raja’s change in plea on June 18, the prosecution said that it will continue to push for a murder conviction and alleges that the shooting was the culmination of a long-running dispute between two tire salesmen in the town, the Daily Mail newspaper reported.

The court heard from prosecution lawyers that Raja was allegedly hired by one of the tire salesmen to kill the other, but ended up shooting Hachem in the bungled attack.

“As your Lordship knows, that plea is not acceptable to The Crown and we propose to continue against Mr Raja,” Nicholas Johnson for the prosecution said to Judge Mr. Justice Mark Turner.

Turner, addressing the jury, said: “By way of brief explanation, the position of the prosecution is that they continue to assert that Mr. Raja is guilty of murder.

“As you have heard he has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but because the prosecution wish to proceed on the murder charge — as they are entitled to elect — the trial will continue.”

Hachem and her family moved as refugees to the UK from Lebanon when she was a young girl.

“Our beautiful 19-year-old daughter Aya has been taken from us in the most horrific circumstances,” her family said in a statement shortly after her death last year.

“She was the most loyal, devoted daughter who enjoyed spending time with her family, especially her brothers and sisters Ibraham, Assil and Amir.”

Aya had excelled during her time at high school in Blackburn and was in her second year at Salford University where she was studying to become a solicitor, according to her family.

At the time of her death, she had just completed her second year exams and was also learning to drive, they added.


Doctor details attempts to save Princess Diana 

A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time. (AFP/File Photo)
A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 20 June 2021

Doctor details attempts to save Princess Diana 

A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time. (AFP/File Photo)
  • MonSef Dahman: ‘We fought hard, we tried a lot, really an awful lot’
  • He said he is speaking out to combat enduring conspiracy theories about princess’s death

LONDON: A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time about how his team tried “everything possible” to save her life.

Dr. MonSef Dahman was 33 on the night of the infamous crash, serving as a young duty general surgeon at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital.

He had been working a long shift from 8 a.m. the previous day, and was called to the A&E department to treat a “young woman” in the early hours of Aug. 31, 1997.

“I was resting in the duty room when I got a call from Bruno Riou, the senior duty anaesthetist, telling me to go to the emergency room,” Dahman, 56, told Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper.

“I wasn’t told it was Lady Diana, but (only) that there’d been a serious accident involving a young woman.

“The organisation of the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital was very hierarchical. So when you got a call from (such) a high-level colleague, that meant the case was particularly serious.”

Dahman said he realized the gravity of what was unfolding when he arrived at A&E moments later. His duty room was just 50 meters away from the emergency section.

Riou was in the room and personally taking care of the woman on the stretcher, which was a “sign of the special importance,” Dahman said.

It was then that he was told that the patient was Diana, Princess of Wales. “It only took that moment for all this unusual activity to become clear to me,” he added.

“For any doctor, any surgeon, it is of very great importance to be faced with such a young woman who is in this condition. But of course even more so if she is a princess.”

He kept a lid on the full details of Diana’s treatment, but said an X-ray showed she had “very serious internal bleeding” and underwent a procedure to help remove excess fluid from her chest cavity and blood transfusions.

Diana, 36, suffered a cardiac arrest at about 2:15 a.m., prompting the medics to give her an external heart massage and emergency surgery while she was lying on the stretcher in A&E.

“I did this (procedure) to enable her to breathe,” Dahman said. “Her heart couldn’t function properly because it was lacking in blood.

Alain Pavie, one of France’s leading heart surgeons, was woken at home to help save Diana, and she was moved to an operating theater.

He suspected that the team had not found the full details of her internal bleeding, so he conducted further exploratory surgery.

His investigation discovered that she had suffered a tear in her upper left pulmonary vein at the point of contact with the heart.

Pavie sutured the cut, but her heart rate had flattened before the surgical exploration and would not restart.

“We tried electric shocks, several times and, as I had done in the emergency room, cardiac massage,” said Dahman. “Prof. Riou had administered adrenaline. But we could not get her heart beating again.”

The team spent an hour attempting to resuscitate the princess. “We fought hard, we tried a lot, really an awful lot. Frankly, when you are working in those conditions, you don’t notice the passage of time,” Dahman said. “The only thing that is important is that we do everything possible for this young woman.”

The doctor said one of the reasons for breaking his silence on the night of the crash was to demonstrate how the Parisian medical staff had given every effort to save her, in contrast to relentless conspiracy theories about Diana’s death.

A medical review some years after the event reaffirmed Dahman’s statements. “No other strategy would have affected the outcome,” the report concluded.