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.


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.


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.”


Taliban vow to ‘suppress’ Daesh presence in Afghanistan

Taliban vow to ‘suppress’ Daesh presence in Afghanistan
Updated 24 September 2021

Taliban vow to ‘suppress’ Daesh presence in Afghanistan

Taliban vow to ‘suppress’ Daesh presence in Afghanistan
  • Daesh will become major threat if world shuns Taliban rule, say experts

KABUL: A senior Taliban official has said the group will “suppress” Daesh fighters operating in Afghanistan, as experts warned the militants were likely to increase their activity and attacks.
After toppling the Western-backed government in Kabul mid-August, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have faced a deadly attack on the capital’s airport and bomb blasts in the eastern city of Jalalabad, all claimed by Daesh-Khorasan, or Daesh-K, the local affiliate of the group that originated in Syria.
Daesh emerged in Afghanistan in late 2014 but its strength has declined from its 2018 peak after a series of heavy losses inflicted by both the Taliban and US forces. The group denounced the Taliban’s takeover of the country, criticizing their version of Islamic rule as insufficiently hardline.
As Daesh-K’s strength is now estimated by the UN to be fewer than 2,000 militants, compared with at least 100,000 Taliban fighters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid downplayed the threat earlier this week by saying the group had no “effective presence” in Afghanistan.
“Soon they would be suppressed,” another spokesman Bilal Karimi, who is a member of the Taliban cultural commission, told Arab News on Thursday. “We assure the people that any group which wants to confront us would be grounded.”
But experts forecast that Daesh would soon become a major threat to the stability of Taliban rule, especially if the new government remained shunned by the rest of the world.
“The Taliban will see a sharp (increase in) activity of ISIS-K (Daesh-K) shortly,” Ahmad Saeedi, a political expert based in Kabul, said. “The Taliban regime has not been recognized by the world so far, and this is a potential threat.”
The Taliban were facing a “series of movements by anti-Taliban forces that had a special place in the previous regime, such as the remnants of the former army,” Saeedi added. “With this situation, it is likely that the Taliban will not be able to continue their rule for more than a year.”
Other anti-Taliban groups, including the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan supported by some members of the previous administration, may join forces with Daesh, he said, and the combined challenges could lead to a “premature collapse” of the Taliban government.
Col. Hekmatullah Hakimi, a former officer of the Afghan army, also listed opposition groups as the possible future ranks of Daesh.
“It is possible that several resistance affiliates will join the ranks of ISIS-K and line up against the Taliban,” he said.
The threat may increase further if the Taliban continued sowing fear among those rejecting them.
“Their enemies would increase daily,” Kabul-based international relations expert Wais Naseri told Arab News. “Military confrontation against the Taliban is 100 percent possible, and that military resistance will form in the not-too-distant future.”

The day music died: Grim future awaits Afghanistan’s refugee musicians in Pakistan

The day music died: Grim future awaits Afghanistan’s refugee musicians in Pakistan
Updated 24 September 2021

The day music died: Grim future awaits Afghanistan’s refugee musicians in Pakistan

The day music died: Grim future awaits Afghanistan’s refugee musicians in Pakistan

PESHAWAR: The day the Taliban entered the Afghan capital on Aug. 15, Rafi Haneef knew he had to flee immediately.
The very next day, the harmonium player and dozens of his fellow musicians from Kabul crossed over into neighboring Pakistan through the Chaman border, fearing violence and persecution from a hard-liner group that banned most forms of music when it previously ruled Afghanistan in 1996-2001.
Since returning to power as US soldiers withdrew from the country last month, the Taliban have told Afghans, and the international community, that they will uphold rights and allow cultural activities within the confines of Islamic law.
But Afghans artists have no hope they will play again under a Taliban government.
“The entire music industry collapsed the day the Taliban appeared in Kabul on Aug. 15,” Haneef told Arab News in an interview this week from the Pakistani city of Peshawar, in the country’s northwest. “The Taliban consider music haram, or forbidden, but we can’t live without music.”
Sadiq Sameer, a player of the lute-like instrument called the rubab, said he fled Afghanistan the day after the Taliban captured Kabul, leaving behind a 10-member family, including his six children. His cherished rubab is also lost in Kabul.
Sameer was a known figure in Afghanistan and a regular performer at private events and on major TV channels like ToloNews and Shamshad TV.
“That morning when I left my family was the most terrible of my life,” Sameer said. “At my family’s insistence, the next morning after the Taliban seized power in Kabul, I somehow managed to cross over the Chaman border and reached Peshawar after a 24-hour perilous journey.”
The concerns of Sameer’s family are not unfounded.
The dangers facing musicians in Afghanistan were brutally highlighted in the final months of the Taliban insurgency, when the group carried out targeted attacks on those it said had betrayed its vision of Islamic rule.
Since the Taliban captured power in Afghanistan, members of an all-female orchestra have either left the country or destroyed their instruments and gone into hiding. In Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, the group issued a formal order against radio stations playing music and female announcers last month. International media has shown footage of armed Taliban fighters guarding the shuttered Afghanistan National Institute of Music.
There have been other changes that point to the austere tone of the new Taliban rulers.
Colorful signs outside beauty parlors have been whitewashed, traditional dress has replaced jeans and radio stations have switched from their normal menu of Hindi and Persian pop and call-in shows to somber patriotic music.
Even in Pakistan, things will not be easy for artists like Haneef who had to leave his instruments behind.
“I can’t do anything else except music because my family background is music,” Haneef said. “My father was a music teacher, and my brothers and cousins are all musicians.”
In Afghanistan, he said he was able to earn a decent living by playing up to 20 wedding parties and other events a month.
“I fled Kabul for Peshawar with only two suits,” Haneef said. “Now, I’m worried about how to feed my kids.”
Sameer echoed the sentiment, saying he had lived a “happy life” in Kabul as a performer and teacher of the rubab but was now “miserable” in Peshawar where he was temporarily staying at the house of a friend.

“How long can you stay as a guest with someone? I’m in deep trouble, worrying about my future and my family in Kabul.”

The only thing he had to look forward to was moving his family to Pakistan so they could “face all odds together.”

“My life is shattered and I’m at God’s mercy without any hope for a better tomorrow,” Sameer said.

The future looks grim indeed since work will not be easy to find in Pakistan, particularly in its northwest where the music industry has been badly hurt by years of militant violence and now the pandemic.

In the early 2000s, after conservative religious parties sympathetic to the Taliban rode to power in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital, they banned music on public transportation and concerts at Nishtar Hall, Peshawar’s only theater venue. Landlords were forced to evict musicians from the Dabgari neighborhood in

Peshawar’s old city, where they had lived for generations, and turned a blind eye to attacks on music shops.

At least 13 prominent artists, particularly female Pashtun singers, were killed by Pakistan’s indigenous Taliban movement between 2008 and 2017, the heyday of the insurgency, according to a report published by major Pakistani newspaper The News. Most were killed in or near Peshawar city.

And now, the pandemic has destroyed whatever was left of an already dying industry in the region.

Ajmal Khan, a director at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Directorate of Culture, said Afghan musicians would be eligible for a planned Rs500 million ($3 million) grant to support provincial artists.

“We will very soon release the grant to disburse among musicians,” Khan said. “We will also help Afghan musicians.”

It was unclear when the grant would be distributed, but civil society members were skeptical it would reach Afghan artists.

“I don’t think the KP government will extend a helping hand,” Rashid Khan, chief of the Hunari Tolana Welfare Society, told Arab News.

The organization, which supports performers, is planning to seek help from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Development Programme.

“We’re preparing a proposal to request that the UNHCR and UNDP financially support our artist guests from Afghanistan,” Khan said.


EU chief outlines ambition for strategic autonomy at UNGA

Charles Michel, President of the European Council of the European Union addresses the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AP)
Charles Michel, President of the European Council of the European Union addresses the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2021

EU chief outlines ambition for strategic autonomy at UNGA

Charles Michel, President of the European Council of the European Union addresses the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AP)
  • European Council president: ‘We have values to promote, citizens to protect, interests to defend’
  • Chares Michel: ‘Overriding need to resume peaceful dialogue toward two-state solution with Israel, Palestine’

NEW YORK: The president of the European Council has outlined the EU’s ambition for strategic autonomy, which he said would be used in pursuit of a fair and more secure world.

“We have values to promote, citizens to protect and interests to defend,” Charles Michel told delegates at the UN General Assembly on Friday.

“In this spirit, we’re developing the strategic autonomy of the European Union, including in our capacities of security and defense.” This effort, he said, would allow the bloc to “shore up” its “positive influence” abroad.

The European Council is an EU body composed of the heads of each member state, and it defines the overall strategic and political objectives of the union.

Michel listed the conflict in Ukraine and the weaponization of migrants by Belarus as critical challenges that a strategically autonomous EU would be able to more effectively address.

“The recent uptick in violence in the Middle East was the first reminder of the overriding need to resume peaceful dialogue toward a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine,” he said.

He made clear, however, that European strategic autonomy would not come at the expense of the bloc’s relationship with the US.

“This is an alliance that’s anchored in our democratic values, and it’s a staunch pillar of our security and stability in the world,” he said. “Stronger allies make for a stronger alliance, in transparency and loyalty.”

In keeping with many of the addresses at the 76th UNGA, which began last week, Michel pledged that the EU would continue the fight against climate change, and he urged others to follow in this endeavor.

“Today, we face another turning point in human history because we’re entrenched in another war, a global war. This global war has no opposing sides, no armies … yet this war destroys lives, brings countries to their knees and brings unimaginable suffering to families. I’m talking about the war we humans have waged against nature,” he said.

“It’s time to stop waging war against nature. It’s time for humans to sign an armistice with nature … A fairer, more secure world is a world free from the climate threat.”

But Michel acknowledged that the impacts and causes of climate change are not evenly distributed globally.

“We’re aware that not all are equal in the race against time vis-a-vis global warming,” he said. “Industrialized countries shoulder particular responsibility in supporting developing countries.”

Michel said “few have honored their word” regarding the 2019 pledge by developed countries to provide $100 billion per year to help developing countries fight global warming.

“From 2013 to 2019, the EU and member states have dispersed €127 billion ($148.8 billion) — that’s one-third of the total in the commitment — and we call upon other partners to honor their pledges as well. It’s a question of trust and a question of equality,” he added.

“Transforming the world, making it fairer, more secure, and guaranteeing dignity for every person — that’s the promise, that’s the pledge of the United Nations. It’s incumbent upon all of us to meet this promise, to honor the commitment, to rise to the ambition.” In these goals, he said: “You can count on the European Union.”

British police arrest 39 climate activists blocking Port of Dover

British police arrest 39 climate activists blocking Port of Dover
Updated 24 September 2021

British police arrest 39 climate activists blocking Port of Dover

British police arrest 39 climate activists blocking Port of Dover
  • About 40 activists from the environmental group Insulate Britain brought traffic to and from the port to a standstill
  • The port said on Twitter that traffic was moving freely again about three hours after it announced the protest

LONDON: British climate change protesters on Friday temporarily blocked the Port of Dover, Europe’s busiest trucking port, and police arrested 39 people.
About 40 activists from the environmental group Insulate Britain brought traffic to and from the port, the main artery for trade over the English Channel, to a standstill. Some demonstrators sat on the road until police cleared them.
The port said on Twitter that traffic was moving freely again about three hours after it announced the protest.
Insulate Britain wants the government to commit to providing insulation for 29 million homes in an effort to curb fossil fuel use and fight global warming.
The Transport Ministry said the High Court on Friday approved an injunction that would send members of the group to jail if they repeat the Dover protests.
The group has blocked London’s M25 orbital motorway five times in the last two weeks, and an order calling for jail time was issued earlier in the week for further protests on the M25.
“It is unacceptable that people cannot go about their day-to-day businesses ... because of the reckless actions of a few protesters,” Transport Minister Grant Shapps said on Twitter.
Insulate Britain says the government should fund the insulation of all social housing by 2025. Nearly 15 percent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from heating homes, it says.
“We are sorry for the disruption that we are causing. It seems to be the only way to keep the issue of insulation on the agenda,” the group said.
Britain, which aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, will host the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson will push world leaders to commit to ending reliance on fossil fuels.

Myanmar military recruits notorious militiamen to combat civilian resistance

Myanmar military recruits notorious militiamen to combat civilian resistance
Updated 24 September 2021

Myanmar military recruits notorious militiamen to combat civilian resistance

Myanmar military recruits notorious militiamen to combat civilian resistance
  • Members of hardline, pro-military groups known as Pyu Saw Htee seen joining army training
  • At least 1,121 civilians killed since the country’s elected government was ousted in February

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s fearsome military is training militias to fight opposition to its rule, defectors and resistance members say, after attacks on junta troops intensified following a call for civilians to target the armed forces was issued by the government in exile earlier this month.

The Myanmar Army, known as the Tatmadaw, is one of the largest in Southeast Asia with an estimated 400,000 troops. It ousted the elected government in a coup in February, inflicting deadly violence on those protesting its rule.

Non-violent protests across the country against the junta then saw a series of bloody crackdowns from early March, with some protestors subsequently taking up arms, supported by army defectors.

“Defection is now growing like never before because soldiers and police are ashamed to be in uniform,” Maj. Hein Thaw Oo, who left Light Infantry Division No. 99 in late March and has since been training civilians, told Arab News via a messaging app last week.

“We know for sure that more than 1,500 soldiers defected so far,” he added.

While the armed resistance is increasing, and the exiled National Unity Government called for a “defensive war” against the junta in September, the army is forming pro-military civilian groups to crush it.

Last month, the State Administration Council was quoted by state media as discussing the “systematic formation of village people’s militias,” to take action against the NUG and its affiliate organizations.

“They might be armed,” Hein Thaw Oo said. “This is likely to counter the public opposition and public resistance to the military rule.”

Members of hardline, pro-military groups, known as Pyu Saw Htee, which in recent months targeted a number of lawmakers ousted by the junta, have been seen joining army training in Bago region.

“Some wards in Bago town are Pyu Saw Htee strongholds. It was not surprising to see they are so happy and eager to join such training,” said Kyaw Zeya, a former Bago lawmaker wholeads the People’s Defense Force, an umbrella of anti-junta groups.

“They are blood-thirsty thugs. Because of them, the junta was able to slaughter peaceful protesters back in March,” he told Arab News, adding that the Pyu Saw Htee have been training in large numbers. “Once they are armed, I can’t imagine how chaotic the situation will be.”

Located some 80 km from Myanmar’s largest city Yangon, Bago town, where junta troops killed dozens of people during peaceful demonstration in March, is seen as being of strategic value to both sides.

“The junta considers the resistance forces in Bago a major threat to its presence in Yangon,” a rebel leader from the region said on condition of anonymity. “They will do anything and everything to protect it.”

At least 1,121 civilians have been killed, and 6,718, including elected politicians, activists, medics and journalists, are currently detained in Myanmar, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma, which tracks arrests and deaths following the military takeover.