“This is an emblematic depiction of the agony of hard labor. For saving themselves from hunger they breathe in asbestos dust and toxic waste. Thus they are risking their lives everyday. On the verge of death they risk their lives in order to endure themselves. They are passing their days on one of the world‘s most unregulated and hazardous industries, leaving a trail of debris, disability and death in its wake. I spend 10 days in the Gaddani ship-breaking yard north of Karachi in 2005. I witnessed workers dismantling large ships, piece by piece using no protection, in absence of tools, where one wrong move could result in death, but they were continually depending in their bare hands. In a city of dying ships flames with smoke rising, tormented with ship body parts, metal residue, asbestos, and oil spills. Barefooted workers with little access to necessary tools are vanishing ships on the rusty sand of Gaddani and break down these steel giants coming from all the harbours of the world.”
– Gmb Akash
The beach of Gaddani, 50 miles north of Karachi in Pakistan, has become one of the two world biggest cemeteries of super tankers, cargoes and other vessels in the world. Thousands of men, mostly Pashto migrants, toil over the ships. They are seasonal workers, a large number of native and immigrant workers returning to their homeland near the Afghan border at harvest time. The group consists of perhaps from Afghanistan. They pen for their beloved, whom they get to see only during the year ends. For around USD 1.20 a day, thousands of workers labour to dismantle dozens of ships each year at the ship-breaking yard in Gaddani.
Rashed, a labourer at the Gaddani ship-breaking yard has worked for five years dismantling ships. He said: “Had we had any other way of earning bread, we would not have come here.” Workers are always under high risk of accident, though they hardly care to secure themselves. Under hitting rains of sparks, blowtorches split through the thick steel skin of a ship. As they are cut lose, the pieces of metal plummet to the ground with a roar. I saw workers, toiling ceaselessly, as though banished forever to an underworld.
Many workers operate in tight spaces where the air is thin, and in high temperatures caused by hot welding, which is widely used, not to mention that they are constantly exposed to flammable liquids like paints and solvents. The work carried well into the night shipyard in Gaddani, Pakistan. This is the ship graveyard that serves as the final destination for a significant part of the world’s fleet.
“Barefooted workers would take apart, bit by bit, the dying ships with their bare hands, shipyard in Gaddani, Pakistan. On their shoulders, workers bore great metal plates to their destination. People complain about their crappy lives working in an air conditioned work place, imagine having this as your only option in life.”
– Gmb Akash