Windup the issue of MT Cherish
It was a good omen that the federal government provided a lifeline to the Gadani ship recycling industry with taxation relief in budget 2020-21 by revisiting the heavy charges imposed during the preceding fiscal years.
Upon some taxation relief in hand in FY 2020-21, the industry took flight once again after a deep dip observed during FY 2018-19 and FY 2019-20 despite a long list of challenges.
Outstanding issues include informal governance mechanism, competitive bidding due to continuous currency depreciation trend since the year 2018,import of re-roll able steel without a competitive taxation structure and un-attended / inadequate facilities by the government at Gadani Yard, and presence of different interest groups with negative motives against ship recycling industry in Pakistan etc.
Above all, the economic operators are not comfortable with the change in taxation procedure, which is put into practice by the federal government by abolishing the fix tax application.
It is pertinent to mention that the industry submitted more than PKR 16 Billion revenue to Government of Pakistan for the FY 2017-18, before entering into downward trends.
Whereas, this activity contributes about one third towards country’s annual steel requirement.
Currently, the case of an end-of-life Floating Storage and Offloading (FSO) tanker (named MT Cherish, old name radiant) has raised several concerns about the functional aspects of the federal government, particularly after stopping the cutting process on 4 May 2021for the sake of an inquiry due to alleged charges of containing huge quantity of toxic Mercury waste inside it.
Factually, Interpol had given an alert for the likelihood of toxic Mercury, source of which is not credible.
The issue remained under discussion with different versions at national and international level.
The inquiry is not over yet even after spending more than four months period, which is an un-usual scenario causing unpleasant situation by embarrassing the genuine stakeholders, particularly the economic operators in direct and indirect value chain involved.
The Inquiry Committee has consumed a lot of time; and an un-necessary delay to conclude the case is suspicious which is raising many queries and concerns.
Besides, negative motives of various groups at national and international level are behind the whole story due to which the matter of MT Cherish was portrayed wrongly in the media reports by manipulating the facts.
Today, as per general media reports, MT Cherish is a big villain of the environment and workplace safety related protocols.
However, the last two years’ facts of this ship reveal something different, which needs to be understood well by the Government of Pakistan, the inquiry committee, relevant institutions, stakeholders and the media outlets.
It is pertinent to highlight that there is a potential threat for the diversion of business to India and Bangladesh due to the prevailing scenario of MT Cherish and any repetition of the same in a near future, which would be a big loss not only for the people associated with the overall value chain, but also for Pakistan’s economy.
The steel market trend would likely observe hike in price if such cases remained un-attended and dealt wrongly without considering the facts on ground.
Let’s first scrutinize the origin, source, contents and credibility of the Intepol’s alert which was sent to National Central Bureau (NCB) – Pakistan of Interpol at FIA Islamabad vide email message No.2020/179/OEC/ILM/ENS/SSSH dated 22 April 2021.
Interpol didn’t confirm but just indicated likelihood by writing, ‘travelling to Gadani, Pakistan for demolition while still likely having hazardous waste onboard’. It is very critical to mention that Interpol had mentioned an outdated news link i.e. https://tinyurl.com/yxmrhf8f dated 01 May 2020 for its source of information about the waste inside the ship.
Interpol’s source is of a donor funded less credible newspaper i.e. ‘Benar News’ in which statement of Executive Director of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) plotted the main story in the overall scenario. BELA’s ED Syeda Rizwana Hassan is a Board member of NGO Ship breaking Platform (NSP).
However, despite repeated request through a Pakistani Board Member of NSP, so far, no evidence furnished by NSP whether this ship was rejected by Bangladeshi and Indian environmental regulatory authorities due to high levels of Mercury contents in its waste oil.
Even, there was no evidence available that the ship owners tried to send MT Cherish to Bangladesh.
It is pretty clear that Interpol was misled by the actual originators of the news item and they are among those who have negative motives to halt operations at Gadani Ship Recycling Yard.
As the old name of MT Cherish i.e. MT Radiant was mentioned in outdated news clip so Interpol used same particulars for sharing with NCB Pakistan at FIA Islamabad without any verification. Stakeholders have raised concerns about the credibility of Interpol in the overall scenario.
Since the message was from Interpol though not verified through credible sources, NCB Pakistan at FIA Islamabad shared the same message with Ministry of Maritime Affairs (MOMA) on 27 April 2021 vide letter No.GS-3/28-NCB-2021-3156. MOMA forwarded the same information to Ministry of Defence (MoD) through a letter dated 29 April 2021.
Subsequently, MoD forwarded the same to Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) for necessary action vide letter MoD’s UO F.No.2/3/M-2/2015/M-3 dated 4 May 2021.PMSA intimated the Ship’s Agent M/s Shoaib Shipping vide letter no. 280/FISH/RFA/258 dated 4 May 2021 to stop demolition until necessary clearance from concerned authorities. On 7 May 2021, MoD wrote MoMA to request all stakeholders to comply the instructions.
Subsequently, Ministry of Interior (MoI) and MoCC issued necessary instructions accordingly, and cutting operations for MT CHERISH at plot # 58-61 ceased.
—The writer is associated with National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA), contributes to the national press regularly.