Where did 1,500 tonnes of sludge contaminated with mercury go?

“The ship’s hull is crystal clear and the rusty walls suggest it hasn’t had any oil for a few years,” Baluchistan government official Mohammad Khan commented as he boarded the disused ship on Saturday. ‘MT Cherish’ who allegedly transported the vessel. 1,500 tonnes of toxic waste washed up in Gadani to be recycled for a month.

Khan is the head of the environmental protection committee which investigated the case of the mercury-contaminated vessel which reached Pakistan dramatically, despite the fact that a warning was issued to Islamabad by Interpol near a week before his arrival.

He told The News that the hazardous waste claim was likely false and that his team had obtained samples of the used oil to verify the fact. “There are about 100 blue drums on the yard in which the ship’s oil has been kept. We have placed them in our custody. “

The government of Balochistan launched an investigation into the case on May 26. Their spokesperson, Liaquat Shahwani, said he was intimidated by federal agencies quite late, after the ship had already been cut. “Otherwise, we would have examined it before,” he explained, adding that the investigation report will be finalized in “a few” days.

Interpol’s environmental crime unit had communicated an alert to its network to the Federal Investigation Agency on April 22 that a floating storage and offloading vessel (FSO) – “ Radiant ”, formerly known as “ J.NAT ” – may have been towed to Gadani. and planning for the illegal disposal of 1,500 tonnes of mercury-contaminated oil sludge in violation of the Basel and Marpol conventions.

He added that in May 2020 the vessel was under the name “ J.NAT ” and had been banned by Bangladeshi authorities from docking at Chittagong, which has the world’s largest ship recycling yard, and since November 2020, she was anchored in Mumbai after the Indian authorities did not allow her to run aground at Alang, which has the second largest shipbreaking yard in the world.

The Indian and Bangladeshi governments have taken their warning in a report by the Shipbreaking Platform – a Brussels-based NGO that advocates for “clean and safe recycling off the beach” – that the ship, formerly named “Jesslyn” Natuna ”, contained a substantial amount of hazardous waste, left Indonesia“ illegally ”in May 2020 in search of his final resting place in South Asia.

The owner of the vessel in Pakistan, Rizwan Dewan, denies acknowledging the toxic waste. “I bought this vessel a few months ago from a company in Singapore after seeing all of its certificates

who declared it suitable for recycling, ”he said, showing a private lab report that found mercury in its sludge at a rate of 150 micrograms per kilogram. “It’s not a toxic level,” Dewan said.

He said his ship arrived in Karachi from Mumbai on April 25 and underwent close scrutiny by all federal agencies, including Customs and the Maritime Safety Agency, before docking at his shipbreaking yard in Gadani. He also showed an authorization letter from the Balochistan Environmental Protection Agency authorizing the cutting up of the vessel.

“First of all, I had no idea this ship was controversial, and second, why would I invest my money in something that is not suitable for recycling?” he said, adding that he learned of Interpol’s warning on May 8, five days after its dismantling began. “We have kept the waste in drums and will dispose of it according to the laws.”

When asked why he would change the name of a vessel when scrapped, he said it was common practice for buyers to change the name of the vessel after purchasing it, stressing that this was happening in 99% of countries. case. He said of the whole situation that it was a plot developed by the Bangladeshi and Indian lobbies to divert the shipbreaking work from Pakistan.

“It is a labor-intensive industry employing 15,000 to 20,000 people, including 20 to 25% of the inhabitants of Gadani,” he said, adding that he was once the largest shipbreaking yard in the world, but that its rank has fallen to third. after recycling work has moved to neighboring countries.

He claimed that the level of mercury in petroleum sludge was not toxic in light of the parameters explained by the World Health Organization. “We are convinced that it is not toxic, but we will fully cooperate with the authorities and get rid of it as they say.”

The lead investigator of the case, Khan, explained that mercury would exhibit a toxic characteristic if its contamination was greater than 200 micrograms per kilogram. He said the government would rely on its own lab results, adding that a sample had already been sent to the Pakistan Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) for review.

On the other hand, marine biologist Alia Bano Munshi, who served as the scientific director of PCSIR, said that mercury in any quantity is dangerous for humans and the environment. She referred to her research on the tanker “Tasman Spirit” which had run aground at the port of Karachi spilling crude oil containing mercury into the sea. “The inhabitants of the neighboring areas suffered from diseases because of it.”

The News attempted to contact the workers who cleaned the oil from the ship, but none were available. The president of the Gadani Shipbreaking Union, Bashir Mehmoodani, said Bengali workers were usually employed to clean up oil, but since news broke none of them have been seen in Gadani.

Contrary to the claims of the shipowners and the Balochistan government commission of inquiry, the general secretary of the National Federation of Trade Unions, Nasir Mansoor, suspected a criminal act in this case. “How is it that the committee did not openly see the sludge dumped in the yard?”

Mansoor said that due to weak law enforcement Pakistan is a top destination for dirty ships to be recycled. He said the majority of the broken down ships in Gadani were tankers or floating warehouses. “You will rarely find a passenger ship or cargo ship coming here.”

He demanded that a judicial investigation be carried out in this case, to the exclusion of the authorities who would have agreed to moor the ship in Pakistan. “Tests in Indonesia indicate that the mercury contamination in the sludge from this vessel was around 395 milligrams per kilogram. What miracle happened in Pakistan that the mercury almost disappeared? “

He said the sludge was either dumped into the sea or it was illegally disposed of in Pakistan. “The Interpol report says the waste weighed over 1,500 tonnes. This is not a quantity that could be inserted in only 100 or 200 liter drums. The excavations in the yard must be open for the probe. “

The News spoke with a former merchant seaman, Captain Haseeb, to find out how a vessel carrying 1,500 tonnes of cargo has dramatically reduced it. He said Pakistan is infamous as a graveyard of ships with the dirtiest sludge. “Because it’s easy to dodge the law here,” he explained.

Haseeb said that sometimes the perpetrators drilled holes in the hull of the ship to pump the sludge into the sea. “The oil flows during the day because it is hot and solidifies at night. This is professional misconduct committed by ships when they move to be dismantled. He added that in case such ships go under the radar of international authorities, they try to hide by changing their names and flags.

Naida Hakirevic, editor-in-chief of the Green Marine section at Offshore Energy, wrote in her November 2020 article that “Almost a third of the vessels sold in South Asia in 2020 have changed flag for the registers of Comoros, Gabon, Palau and Saint Kitts. and Nevis a few weeks before going to the beach.

“As explained, these flags are generally not used during the operational life of the vessels and offer discounts for ‘last voyage check-in’. They are particularly popular with intermediate scrap metal dealers who buy ships for cash from shipowners and are on the gray and black list due to their poor application of international maritime law.

In the case of the ship in question, it has changed its name three times in the past three years, each time it attempted to enter a new country. The 229-meter-long, 37,380-ton vessel was built in 1983 by Japan and last served in an oil and gas field in Indonesia, before it was decommissioned in 2018.

Kan Matsuzaki, director of shipbuilding and shipbreaking at IndustriALL Global Union, told The News that “This is unacceptable from a union perspective. The government and the employer (the owner of the shipyard) and the shipowner are simply endangering the lives of workers. “

He added that stakeholders are still monitoring the situation. If Gadani wants to have a sustainable business in the future, the government and construction site owners must follow the rules of the Hong Kong Convention.

“Remember the tragedy of November 1, 2016 in Gadani. Workers are not commodities, but human beings who also have loved ones. Safety and health above all! Save the lives of workers! Ratify the Hong Kong convention now. “

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