Shipbreaking: A Threat to the Gadani Ecosystem


Ship breaking activities are being practiced in the coastal areas of Pakistan and have gained importance in the macro and micro-economy of poverty stricken Pakistan.

Ship breaking is the process of dismantling an obsolete vessel’s structure for scrapping or disposal. Conducted at a pier or dry dock or dismantling ship, it includes a wide range of activities, from removing all gears and equipment to cutting down the ship’s infrastructure. Ship breaking is a challenging process, due to the structural complexity of ships and the many environmental, safety, and health issues involved (OSHA, 2001). Ship breaking activities are being practiced in the coastal areas of Pakistan and have gained importance in the macro and micro-economy of poverty stricken Pakistan. Increasing demand of raw materials for re-rolling mills and other purposes and negative impacts on our coastal environments, ship breaking activities present both challenges and opportunities for coastal zone management in a holistic manner. These activities exemplify both the potentialities and the dangers of an increasingly globalized economy.

In Pakistan Gaddani complex, a 10-mile stretch of sand-turned-junkyard, west of the port city of Karachi is the hub of ship breaking activities in Pakistan. Labour organizations have denounced working conditions at Gaddani, and international environmental groups like Greenpeace fear, the rebound in ship-breaking will be a catastrophe for the ecosystem along the Arabian Sea coast. But labourers by the hundreds have begun turning up from all over Pakistan, hopeful that more floating behemoths will find their final resting place here. They work for $2-$3 a day, in line with Pakistan’s average wage, with insufficient safety gear and no health plan and they are thankful to have the job in a country, where unemployment is rampant (Greenpeace, 2005).

Oil pollution at Gadani ship breaking is a big threat to the sea ecosystem. A high number of oil contaminations or oil residues are locatable and are the result of the dismantling processes on the coastal strip, especially of inner elements of tankers, as well as a consequence of an irregular storage and draining oil is a normal activity which is performed at Gadani. Only a few of the ship breaking yards have simple containment basins. As a general rule hazardous substances are getting into the environment unresisted, where toxic fumes are released into the air and pose a risk for human health.

As a result of breaking the ships, oil residues and the other refuses are being spilled, mixed with the sea water and left floating along the entire seashore. Oil may cause serious damage in different ways, such as a reduction of light intensity beneath the water surface which inhibits photosynthesis. Oil films on water reduce the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide across the air-sea interface which is harmful to aquatic life. It also causes damage to the bird population by coating their feathers with oil which causes buoyancy and insulation losses. Sometimes spilling may cause wide spread mortality amongst the population of fish, mammals, worms, crabs, mollusks and other water organisms.

About the Author:

Tayyab Shafique is an environmental social scientist/activist from Karachi, Pakistan. He has vast experience in coastal areas climate change, adaptation, and development strategies for projects. He is representing Pakistan as country director (National Director) of “International Student Environmental Coalition” (ISEC) as well as Founder of Climate Beacons Network. An indigenous Climate Change Activist who voluntarily delivers presentations on Climate Change to academia, Industry, NGOs, CBOs and community groups, he is engaged in building capacity and empowering youth for climate action.

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