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


Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release
Updated 27 January 2022

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release
  • ‘Abraham’ ran down attacker in car in ‘heroic’ action but was charged on suspicion of murder
  • London’s Metropolitan Police is facing criticism after it was revealed that it had been warned over McCaskie’s potential for violent behavior

LONDON: A Muslim man who ran over and killed a knifeman who was stabbing his ex-wife to death has urged police to abandon the case against him after he was charged on suspicion of murder.

The 26-year-old Chechen, named Abraham, intervened in the stabbing in West London, and has been labeled a hero for his actions, the Mail Online reported.

On Monday, Leon McCaskie, a 41-year-old who was known to police over abusive and angry behavior, attacked his former wife, Yasmin Wafah Chkaifi, 43, with a knife.

Abraham, who was driving nearby, saw the attack and rammed into McCaskie with his car.

But despite his efforts to save the defenseless woman, Abraham was charged and bailed until next month on a murder charge. It has left him “living in a nightmare,” according to his friends.

Abraham said: “I do not see why I, as the person who tried to assist in the defense of other human beings, remain arrested and on bail under suspicion of murder.”

Anger over his treatment has grown, with more than 20,000 people signing a petition demanding the case against him be dropped.

His lawyer, Mohammed Akunjee, issued a statement on behalf of Abraham. “I witnessed a man repeatedly stabbing a defenseless woman on the pavement a short distance in front of my car,” it said.

“I drove my vehicle toward the attacker in order to get him away from the woman he was attacking. I did not intend to harm the attacker. I only intended to protect those being attacked.

“My vehicle struck the attacker and he was taken under my car, causing it to stall. I could not reverse my car to free him. I and the other passersby attempted to lift the car away from the attacker so we could provide the man with first aid.

“Unfortunately we were unsuccessful with this and I have since learned that both the young lady and her attacker have died. I am deeply sorry that the man I tried to stop from attacking other people has died.

“It was never my intention to harm him, I just wanted to stop him from hurting anybody further. My only regret is that God did not allow me to be present at the scene sooner so that my intervention may have saved the life of the young woman concerned.

“I have asked my solicitor to contact the Metropolitan Police to request that they consider de-arresting me and begin treating me as a witness to a tragic event rather than as a criminal as they currently are.”

Abraham’s friends said he was in shock over the incident.

One said: “If he ever sees anyone in trouble he will always try to help. He’s a good Muslim man and couldn’t bear to see the woman being attacked.

“He was on his way to a job and stopped to do the right thing. He’s in shock about what happened. It’s been a nightmare for him.”

Another said: “This guy is a family man with children and was just doing the right thing. It was instinct and an act of human kindness.

“He is one of the most peaceful and good people I’ve ever met. He would never walk away when somebody needs help.

“He risked his life to save this poor woman. Police should praise him and let him go to his little children and wife.”

London’s Metropolitan Police said Abraham had been “fully cooperative” after being arrested following the incident.

The force is also facing criticism after it was revealed that it had been warned over McCaskie’s potential for violent behavior.

Chkaifi was increasingly concerned that McCaskie would try to kill her after learning that he had planted secret cameras in her home.

“He’s had cameras in my house recording me for months. He’s stolen my mail, my phone and has access to all my personal data. I think he will kill me.”

Chkaifi had filed a police report over the stalking allegations.

McCaskie was also convicted of obstructing a police officer and driving without insurance in 2017.

Chkaifi was a qualified childminder and was studying for a master’s degree.

A friend said of the slain mother: “She was a good soul. It’s very rare in life you come across a good soul. She always had a happy disposition. She was just a lovely person.”

Another said: “She was incredibly kind, hospitable and an amazing cook and dancer. She had a bubbly personality and a confidence about her that was so attractive.

“She was proud of her Moroccan heritage and a spiritual woman. We spoke about Islam, identity and social justice. She was a good person.”


Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon
Updated 27 January 2022

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon
  • Renewed interest caused by socioeconomic crisis, Port of Beirut blast
  • Embassy urging Lebanese citizens living in Brazil to register to vote in upcoming elections

SAO PAULO: The ongoing Lebanese socioeconomic crisis, and the devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut in August 2020, have led many Lebanese Brazilians to show greater interest in the Arab country’s affairs.

Over the past couple of years, Lebanese Brazilians — whose numbers are estimated at between 3 million and 10 million — have promoted drives to assist Lebanon’s people, and have become more involved in its politics.   

This trend was intensified by a campaign launched in 2021 by the Lebanese Embassy in Brasilia to encourage Lebanese citizens living in Brazil to register to vote in elections scheduled for May.

“Many Lebanese Brazilians know very little about Lebanon. But now I think people are more conscious and trying to be informed,” said trader Nagib Makhlouf, 69, who was born in Brazil but has Lebanese citizenship.

He has already taken part in three Lebanese elections: Two in the country — he used to visit to see his mother, who lived there — and one from Brazil.  

“Lebanon is in such bad shape that many people in Brazil are outraged with the situation. I know a group of 10 Lebanese Jews who decided to register and vote for the first time,” Makhlouf said.

Lebanese-born Lody Brais, a community leader who helped publicize the embassy’s campaign, said more and more young Lebanese Brazilians have been manifesting their wish to get involved with Lebanon and help it overcome its crises.

“The diaspora’s vote may help change Lebanese politics. People have lost confidence in politicians,” added Brais, who helped collect food and medicines to be donated to Beirut after the explosion.

“Many descendants who have relatives there sent them money. Everybody was concerned for the victims.”

At the time, lawyer Hanna Mtanios Hanna Jr., honorary consul of Lebanon in the Brazilian city of Goiania, received dozens of calls during his COVID-19 confinement from people who wanted to do something to help Beirut.

“Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Lebanese immigrants would call me saying they had a family connection with the country and wanted to help. Since then, their ties with Lebanon have been growing,” he said.

Lawyer Maggie Chidiac, 58, who has family in Lebanon, told Arab News that it is perceptible how living conditions in the country have declined in recent years.

“We’ve been sending them food and medicines. Community associations and churches usually coordinate donations,” she said.

“The people are facing terrible challenges. We know it because we’re always in touch with them through the internet.”

Communication between Lebanese and their Brazilian relatives have served to inform the latter about Lebanon’s politics, Chidiac said.

“Their reports and opinions are very important for us because they help us understand their situation,” she added.

One of the institutions that coordinated the donations campaign in 2020, the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce — known by the Portuguese acronym CCAB — not only funded healthcare items that were sent by Brazil’s government to Beirut, but also launched money-donation drives.

“The Lebanese consulate in Rio de Janeiro organized a music concert in which Brazilian musicians played with the Beirut orchestra,” said Mohamad Orra Mourad, CCAB’s vice president of international affairs.

“It was televised, and people could donate money to one of our accounts during the show. It all was sent to the Lebanese Red Cross.”

A Brazilian plane carried 6 tons of food, medicines and healthcare items, including mechanical ventilators.

CCAB was awarded a medal by Brazil’s government in December due its efforts in that campaign.

Mourad said the Lebanese Embassy met with Lebanese-Brazilian business leaders in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro last year, and asked them to find a way of contributing to the Lebanese economy.

“We’ve been organizing informal gatherings and discussing forms of answering that request, which can include an investment fund, for instance,” Mourad said.

CCAB will establish a juridical entity that can centralize donations for Lebanon and plans to launch different initiatives, including a program to train businesspeople in the country. Mourad said it also intends to connect Lebanese and Brazilian startups.

“We’ve been pushing for ratification of a commercial agreement between Lebanon and Mercosur,” he added, referring to the South American trade bloc. With ratification, “the commercial exchange could rapidly increase.”

Mourad believes that if more Lebanese Brazilians obtain Lebanese citizenship, they will feel more connected to the country and may decide to invest in it.

“The revived interest among Lebanese Brazilians can certainly lead businessmen to invest in Lebanon,” he said.

“But that will only happen if Lebanon can demonstrate that it will work to overcome instability.”


Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs

Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs
Updated 27 January 2022

Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs

Royal Navy cannot solve English Channel migrant crisis, veteran tells MPs
  • Tom Sharpe: ‘We have to acknowledge … where the solution to this lies, and it’s not at sea’
  • Over 28,000 people made perilous crossing in 2021, many from Middle East, North Africa

LONDON: The British Royal Navy is incapable of patroling the English Channel to prevent further migrant crossings, and increased ships in the area could encourage more to attempt the perilous journey, a former patrol boat commander has warned MPs.

Tom Sharpe, who served in the navy for 27 years, made his comments as Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to it taking over the Channel patrols operation from the Border Force.

A record 28,381 migrants arrived on British shores on dinghies or other small vessels last year, triple the number for 2020. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel last week told Parliament that she had “commissioned the Ministry of Defense as a crucial operational partner to protect our Channel against illegal migration.” 

On Wednesday, Sharpe told the House of Commons defense committee: “We have to acknowledge right at the start, in terms of context, about where the solution to this lies, and it’s not at sea.”

He added: “If you fill the Channel with ships you could make this problem worse because you’re now making the crossing safer, and therefore more attractive.

“In terms of what the navy’s got right now, as I say they could use anything, but there is no fat, there is no spare capacity.

“The person in the planning board ... is going to be hoping desperately that naval vessels aren’t requisitioned for this task because they’re all in use on other things.”

John Spellar, acting chairman of the defense committee, said it is “unfortunate that the Ministry of Defense has declined to provide either a minister or an official or a senior navy officer” to respond to queries. 

Sharpe said the navy could assist with intelligence collection and resource organization, suggesting that ministers could spend on 10 surveillance nodes to track attempted crossings. 

Under this approach, he said, “you’re not playing ‘whack-a-mole’ any more, to use that expression, which is what I think is happening now.”

The veteran sailor said he could not “conceive a situation where you’re physically turning these ships back that’s either legal, or perhaps more importantly, safe.”

His comments against more confrontational tactics come as Border Force workers this month threatened to strike over Patel’s “pushback” tactics, which were passed in September but are currently under judicial review. 

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “We cannot have a situation where our members could be open to potential civil and criminal action for implementing a policy that they do not agree with and know is not safe.”


Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1

Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1
Updated 27 January 2022

Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1

Violence erupts at rally in Pakistan’s port city, killing 1
  • MQM mainly represents ethnic MoHajjirs, who fled to Pakistan from India during 1947′s partition

KARACHI: Police in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi clashed overnight with activists demanding the repeal of a law to limit powers of local mayors, killing one, officials said Thursday.
The violence erupted when police swung batons and fired tear gas to prevent rallygoers from marching toward government offices in the southern port city, drawing nationwide condemnation across the political spectrum.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM, told reporters that party member Mohammad Aslam died at a hospital after being injured in the ensuing crush with police. Women and children were also among the dozens of injured.
MQM mainly represents ethnic MoHajjirs, who fled to Pakistan from India during 1947′s partition, and it dominates politics in Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province. It is an ally in the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Thousands are expected to attend the activist’s funeral on Thursday, and the MQM has called for another day of protests.

Related


India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border

India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border
Updated 27 January 2022

India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border

India probes illegal immigration after tragedy near Canada border
  • Hundreds of Indians, mostly from the western states of Punjab and Gujarat, attempt to cross the US-Canada border each year

MUMBAI: Indian police have detained six people in a crackdown on illegal immigration after four Indians were found frozen to death near the border between the United States and Canada last week, officials said on Thursday.
Hundreds of Indians, mostly from the western states of Punjab and Gujarat, attempt to cross the US-Canada border each year, braving harsh weather conditions in search of a better life and job opportunities in the West.
Police in Gujarat said they identified the four, belonging to a single family, after law enforcement agencies on the border provided photographs of passports and other belongings.
“We are now trying to nab the human traffickers who managed to send this family and others abroad via illegal channels,” said police official A.K. Jhala in the state capital of Gandhinagar.
The six detained by police were running a travel and tourism company in the state, he added.
US authorities have charged a US man with human trafficking after the four — a man, woman, baby and teenager — were found dead in the Canadian province of Manitoba, a few yards north of the frontier with Minnesota.
They were among four families from the same village who had traveled to the border this month.
Officials said they got separated from the group of 18 people and were probably caught in a blizzard, resulting in a tragedy described as “mind-blowing” by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The situation came to light only when the group was intercepted by authorities and one of them was found to be carrying a backpack with baby supplies, although there was no infant among them.
“The nexus of human trafficking runs deep, often involving local politicians too,” said Jhala, adding that people even sell their land and homes to fund efforts to get to the United States or Canada.
A foreign ministry official in the Indian capital of New Delhi said authorities were coordinating with border officials in the United States and Canada to investigate the illegal immigration case.