FPSO Explosion: Vessel May Have Had Product On Board

Published Nov 4, 2016 9:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Friday, the blaze aboard the partially scrapped FPSO Aces finally burned out. The decommissioned vessel exploded and burned at a beaching scrapyard in Pakistan on November 1.

The hull is still too hot to permit responders to enter and search for casualties, local media say.

Sources indicated that firefighters did not have foam extinguishing agents and could not affect the pace of the fire. They may have departed the scene of the fire on Thursday, electing to let it burn out instead, reported DAWN

The death toll had risen to 22 as of Friday, with over 50 wounded and between six and 130 missing. 

Sources vary widely on the precise number of individuals who are as yet unaccounted for; unions and labor activists put the number much higher than the official figures. 

Sources also vary on the source of the explosion. Local outlet DunyaNews reports that the blast was caused by cutting torch sparks igniting petroleum residues in tanks which had not been properly cleaned. Advocacy group NGO Shipbreaking Platform said that the blast was caused by "several gas cylinder explosions."

Several outlets raised the possibility that the Aces was still carrying petroleum. Pakistan's Ary News reported that the vessel had "hundreds of tonnes of oil" on board at the time of the blast. 

In a similar vein, Federal Minister of Ports and Shipping Hasil Bizenjo suggested that the Aces may have been carrying illicit cargo – gasoline and lubricants – which could have been smuggled into Pakistan by loading up the vessel before beaching. “There were reports of petrol smuggling through the ship-breaking yard,” he said, speaking to Geo News.

None of the assertions could be immediately confirmed. Authorities are on scene investigating the circumstances of the accident. 

Union leaders and activists drew a parallel between the shipyard accident and a fire at a garment factory in Baldia Town, Karachi four years ago, which claimed the lives of 255 workers who were trapped by locked doors. Nasir Mansoor, deputy-general secretary of Pakistan's National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), asserts that a lack of government oversight leads to unnecessary fatalities in Pakistani industry in general, and shipbreaking in particular. 

The police in Gadani have arrested the head of the local shipbreaker's association and the job foreman at the Aces scrapping site. They have also opened cases against two additional suspects; Mansoor called for criminal charges against the shipbreakers' association as a whole. 

NGO Shipbreaking Platform says that working conditions are generally poor at South Asia's lightly regulated beaching yards, and that injuries and fatalities are far too frequent. Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi yards handle about 70 percent of shipping's outdated tonnage.