The once flourishing shipbreaking industry of Pakistan -- it contributed around us $17-25 million to the country's exchequer, four years ago -- is now on steady decline. Shipbreakers attribute this to the almost doubling of international freight rates in the past four years.
Besides, the country has begun importing cheaper scrap from Russia, reducing the shipbreaking industry's market. Imported steel-coils from Iran to the tune of 60,000-70,000 tonnes and the country's largest steel manufacturing unit, Pakistan Steel Mills Corporation, too have been the competitors to the industry. "Four years ago, as many as 200 ships were dismantled at Gadani shipbreaking yard in Balochistan province. Last year, only two ships arrived," says Mahmood Moulvi, director, Marine Pride Shipping and Trading Corporation Private Limited, a leading ship-breaking industry. "Moreover, in 2001-2002, the annual average production of the industry was about 300,000-400,000 light dead weight (ldw) of scrap. By 2005-2006, it was just 50,000 ldw," he says. Lack of work has depleted the industry's workforce -- from 25,000-30,000 workers four years ago to just 1,000-1,500, today.
The industry is now opting for even hazardous warships, making the workers more vulnerable. "In March 2006, the asbestos-laden British warship Sir Geriant was dismantled at Gadani, without any investigation of the amount of chemicals or asbestos on board," says Hammad Naqi Khan, director, Freshwater and Toxics Programme, Worldwide Fund For Nature-Pakistan.
-- Shahid Husain Karachi