A ship cemetery, providing livelihood to millions, on verge of closure


For decades, Gadani in Pakistan remained the world’s biggest ship-breaking yard, earning sizeable foreign exchange, contributing handsome revenue in terms of taxes and creating job opportunities for millions. However in recent years, this industry has been on reverse gear owing to competitive international market and disinterested policies of federal government. Pakistan’s economy is going through a bad phase, which has worsened by COVID 19 pandemic in 2020. In these challenging times, government is looking for other alternates like blue economy. Blue economy includes interlinked sectors like ship breaking, fisheries, aquaculture, coastal tourism, maritime transport, shipbuilding. The Prime Minister Khan called for efforts to revitalize the maritime economy to save valuable foreign exchange and generate more jobs.
However, lack of coordination between central and provincial government and lack of interest of incompetent local authorities like Balouchistan Development Authority and Balouchistan Revenue Authority, bureaucracy protecting their vested interests have brought ship breaking industry on brink of disaster. Pakistan, in spite of having enormous potential for growth and investment in the maritime sector or the “Blue Economy”, is only able to generate only 0.4 percent of its GDP.
Gadani, an ideal beach for ship breaking, is a small town in Hub tehsil of Balochistan’s Lasbela district, located about 46 kilometres to the north-west of Karachi. Once Gadani was the largest ship cemetery and recycling destination in world. But now India and Bangladesh have taken over the Pakistan, though Pakistan has favorable conditions like heavy tides, deep waters, cheap labour and a long sandy beach Both the countries are much ahead of Gadani ship breaking just because of their respective governments’ ownership.
Over the decades, Federal government and local authorities have collected billions of revenue in terms of taxes but in return have not facilitated the industry through providing proper infrastructure, utilities and security. All these factors have greatly contributed to make Prime Minister Housing scheme a complete failure since GSBI could easily fulfill the requirements of providing quality construction steel and iron at cheaper rates, if the said industry is being supported with favourable and consistent policies and ownership of Federal government.
These facts were disclosed by the Pakistan Ship Breakers Association (PSBA), when a 14-members delegation of Pakistan council of media women (PCMW), headed by renowned and active journalist Humaira Motala, visited the ship breaking site at Gadani for learning purpose of female journalists. Pakistan Ship Breaking Association office bearer Vice Chairman SI Ahmedullah, Hon General Secretary Asif Ali Khan and members Executive Committee Members Farukkh Panjwani and Amir Sattar were present on the occasion.
After a thorough and detailed visit of breaking yard, PSBA gave comprehensive briefing regarding grave issues faced by the industry. While briefing the delegation, vice chairman Mr. Ahmedullah, honored with Sitare Imtiaz, said that since its establishment in 1968, GSBI remained champion in ship breaking industry for many years. However, due to unfavourable policies of Federal government, new tax rules of present regime and lack of level playing field, the industry has stoop to number three in international market while India and Bangladesh have been ranked first and second, respectively. If these unfair and anti-industry policies would continue, there would be a time that Turkey and China would take over Pakistan.
As of today, ship breaking provides a sizeable amount of the steel that is required for development work and industries. The steel is stripped from ships in breaking process and then it is sent off for further processing. On one hand, it provides quality steel where ship breakers pay huge taxes and on another hand, saving foreign exchange which government would have to pay for importing steel iron as raw material.
Talking to journalists, Asif Ali Khan, Hon General Secretary said that GSBI was the only industry in international market which paid competitive salaries and wages to its workforce having different skill sets. It provides direct and indirect employment to craftsman, engineers and labour. By supporting this industry, PM Imran khan can easily provide employment to millions without any government investment. Ship breaking is the only industry which pays substantial taxes to federal and provincial government before starting work on vessel once it is beached.
In June 1978, the daily Dawn reported that Gadani ship breaking industry was “facing difficulties due to lack of basic facilities like drinking water, electricity, roads, dispensaries, coupled with frequent shortage of oxygen gas”. During the visit, female journalists found that in 42 years since then, it seems nothing has changed. We observed there was no electricity; all yards have their own generators, no gas connections, no fresh water supply for the locals or the yards.
As per record of Pakistan Ship breakers Association (PSBA), more than 16 Billion rupees were paid as taxes from1.6 million metric tons of ship steel reported for FY 2017-18, which is a huge contribution national exchequer. However owing to unfriendly and unfavourable policies of federal government and disinterested attitude of local authorities in FY 2018-19, this tax amount has shrunk down to approximately one fourth. Despite paying huge revenue, the industry is still deprived of all basic amenities including security.
During the learning visit of the media women, it was discovered that ownership of yards/lands is the biggest constraint in progress and development of this industry. The land is partitioned into 314 plots of various sizes – 135 of them have functioning ship-breaking yards in them. The Baluchistan Development Authority (BDA), which is responsible for development and infrastructure of the state, is the single largest yard owner and owns 34 plots that are rented out to private ship-breaking firms.
Owing to lack of interest of Balouchistan Development Authority and provincial government, the ship breakers as yet do not own the yards, though they are ready to make payments to private land owners and BDA (government). Since PBSA do not own the yards they are not able to upgrade their yards as per international standard and if these yards are not being upgraded on priority basis, it will ultimately result in closure of industry which is providing bread and butter to millions.
In Gadani, a worker can easily earn Rs 1200-1500 a day depending upon the skill one possess. Otherwise, a labourer can hardly get Rs 500 per day and work in their native area is not available on a regular basis, it was learnt from the locals.
PSBA emphasized that GSBI poses no threat to environment. Farukkh Panjwani, Executive committee member, said that international safety agencies have visited Gadani and they have found beaching and breaking process safe and environment-friendly. During the process of ship breaking/dismantling Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has its own guidelines, to monitor the “activities of ship-breaking/dismantling” and they visit the sites on periodic basis. Apart from this, all yards are ISO certified, claimed the association.
PCMW 14-members delegation was consist of senior journalist and Editor investigation Ausaf, Mubashir Farooq, Ayesha Ali, Rakshinda Safder, prominent anchor Ramsha, Suneela, Raheel Lodhi, Shazia and many.

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