Mt Cherish — an untold story from Indonesia to Gadani
ISSUE of a tanker ship MT Cherish (formally MTRADIANT), a Floating Storage and Offloading (FSO) tanker manufactured in Japan in 1983, which beached on the shores of Gadani ship-breaking yard, plot 58/59 on 30 April 21, has been in news lately.
According to media reports, the ship alleged for containing high levels of toxic mercury contaminated sludge when it reached Gadani for its final voyage.
It appears to be a classic example of a blame game being played against Pakistan’s maritime interests by various international pressure groups and disguised actors.
The Government of Pakistan has recently set up a Committee to investigate the issue, which is considered appropriate in the present circumstances.
Unfortunately, it also signals that Pakistan acknowledges the blame put on various stakeholders including ship owners, the provincial EPA and the federal government responsible for legal compliance.
The ship’s story starts from Indonesia, where it was called ‘MT Radiant’ owned by Hong Kong ship-owner ie M/S Som Shipping & Trading Ltd, and kept in Indonesian waters for cleaning purpose from 2019 to April 2020.
In April 2020, Indonesian authorities cleared the ship, which then reached Singapore OPL under Tow, where further sludge cleaning was carried out in June 2020. Later, a Singaporean Company also issued a Gas Free Certificate on 10 July 2020.
This indicates that the ship was cleared of all hazardous material and declared fit to sail from Singapore OPL.
Thereafter, the ship sailed and reached Mumbai OPL (India), where it remained from October 2020 to March 2021. The ship was re-named cherish by Som Shipping.
Due to non-payment of bank loans, the Mortgagor Bank took over the vessel from mortgagee owner during stay at Mumbai OPL. The financial institution put up the ship “for sale”. A Dubai based buyer then purchased it in February 2021.
Subsequently, the new buyer then sold the ship to Pakistani ship breaker M/S Dewan & Co.
The ship arrived in Pakistani territorial waters on 21 April 2021, towed by Tug. As per reliable sources, it was then carrying about 350 Mt fuel oil for use of onboard generators as reported by the Tug Master.
Upon beaching at Gadani, on 30 April 2021, Balochistan EPA carried out an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE).
On careful analysis of the above-mentioned facts, ship movement raises many questions. First, when ships sail from one port to the other, port authorities clear the ships for the voyage.
The Tugs Master provides crew list and other documents, (if ship being towed was not operational and without adequate crew) 24 hours before arriving next port.
Master of ship/ Tug Master also engages his port agents to intimate the local authorities about entering in the territorial waters.
It is also important that both port authorities of Indonesia &Singapore believed to have carried out inspection and relevant gas free certificate was issued in Singapore after cleaning.
Thereafter, the ship sailed to India and anchored off Mumbai, where the ship remained for over 5 months.
India is believed to implement the Hazardous Cargo Material Regime (HMCR) convention in its waters.
In the past, India stopped and directed Pakistani flag carrier on the suspicion of HMCR violation.
Secondly, supposing the ship was allegedly carrying sludge with Mercury contents, it is not understood that how three countries missed hazardous cargo on board MT Radian during the period under review from April 2020 onward.
If the ship was carrying hazardous cargo, then it is a total failure of all three countries including India, which claims to be the leading guardian in the Indian Ocean.
It raises a big concern on the intention of the hidden players in the game. Thirdly, Pakistan does not have any use of quantity of sludge oil with high mercury contents.
There are thousands of FPSOs carrying crude oil besides other type of ships carrying crude oil plying the high seas all over the world.
General cleaning is done for these ships when they either go for scrap or when dry docked for repair purpose. In both cases, gas free certificate is mandatory.
It is also evident from physical inspection that oil tanks of MT Cherish appear rusty, suggesting that no cargo (oil) was loaded for a long time.
The question is that who is getting the benefit of these sensational stories by targeting this ship after entering Pakistani waters.
In Pakistan, there is a very mature system placed for issuance of NOC by the environment department.
The explosive department inspects the ship to verify the Gas-free certificate and then issues their NOC. Cold work permission is usually issued to ships for cleaning of all items like wood and oil etc.
The ship is then re-checked by a team from departments of EPA, BDA, Deputy Commissioner Office and the Labour Directorate.
A joint report is then issued and dispatched to DG EPA whose office scrutinizes the same before issuing their final NOC.
Stopping of ship breaking cycle incurs huge loses to investor, breaking yards and other relevant industry partners. Banks also charge heavy mark-ups.
This ship is also feeling the heat for last two months inaction as all permissions issued by various Government Departments have been withheld due to pending detailed investigation, which is causing unnecessary delay in bread and butter of poor workers.
Finally, it has been reported that Interpol was also observing this ship’s movement all along her voyage. Why Interpol failed to alert Indonesia, Singapore, India and Dubai is a looming question.
Why they simply blamed Pakistani authorities? This ship movement timeline simply clears Pakistani involvement in the whole game plan.
Pakistani businessmen purchased ship through open-source trading in Dubai and the ship was moved from Mumbai OPL to Gadani.
Another angle to this issue is that some pressure groups are against Gadani Ship-breaking Yard and appear with negative motives behind this situation.
Gadani ship breaking yard provides direct jobs to 25000-30000 workforce and indirectly supports another million workers of manufacturers of steel products like electrical industry producing fans, motors cable as well as exporters of non-ferrous and other ship parts. Around 10 million Pakistanis are indirectly sustained through this industry’s value chain.
It is logical to conclude that a game is being played against Pakistan to hurt our industry as well as exports.
There was no breach of the environment but just negative propaganda targeting the economy for vested interest.
It is high time that we believe in our institutions and shun the machinations of vested interest by accepting whatever is thrown towards us without any challenge.
A timely and appropriate rebuttal from the federal government was the immediate requirement.
It is now hoped that the matter will not be further delayed and all necessary actions will be taken as early as possible.
—The writer is Director at National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA) and contributes to the national press on a regular basis.