Two Years Since Pakistan’s Gadani Ship-breaking Disaster, Why Are Workers Still Dying?

Despite the Hong Kong Convention, dismantling ships for raw materials or parts remains a dangerous, lawless industry.

 Ship-breaking workers are often desperate for work no others will do, even if wages are slightly higher than the average sweatshop job. Photo: Studio Fasching

Ship-breaking workers are often desperate for work no others will do, even if wages are slightly higher than the average sweatshop job. Photo: Studio Fasching

I’ve seen two workers get killed and three injured by a piece of iron on a ship,” says Muhammed, who has worked for 10 years at the world’s most dangerous shipyard, Gadani, in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. “The workers weren’t aware of the dangling iron, as they were resting after doing some hard work in the yard, and all of a sudden that piece smashed into them.

The three South Asian beach yards of Gadani, Chittagong in Bangladesh, and Alang in India account for 80 per cent of the global ship-breaking trade – as well the lives of thousands of workers who have been killed or maimed by this most hazardous of occupations, which involves the demolition or dismantling of ships into parts and raw materials.

Even on their lunch break, ship-breakers are dicing with death. On November 1, 2016, up to 39 workers – the exact toll is unknown – died in a huge explosion on board an oil tanker in Gadani, the worst ship-breaking accident on record.