Multiple hazardous gas leakages that took place last year in the vicinity of
Port, have been responsible for claiming dozens of lives and endangering hundreds of others. The first incident that took place early in 2020, had a death toll of 25 and left over 400 people unconscious. Whereas, another incident towards the end of the year became the cause of death for another half-a-dozen people, while over 24 collapsed from severe asphyxiation.
However, despite the passage of one-and-a-half years since then, authorities have remained unable to trace those responsible for the toxic emissions, while the investigation itself has been lingering in the doldrums.
Keamari gas leak: ‘No toxic elements found during forensic investigation’
All responsible agencies, including the Karachi Port Trust (KPT), Maritime Security Agency, district administration, health department, home department and the environmental protection agency, have chosen to remain mum on the matter.
Per well-informed sources, a top political bigwig with influence on all key provincial matters has strongly urged concerned departments of the Sindh government to exercise restraint on the matter and withhold any pending inquiries.
This case’s stagnancy, they told, is because the importer whose ship caused the lethal emission has allegedly greased the palms of an influential politician, urging him to exercise his power in keeping things hush-hush. In addition to that, the politician’s foreign accounts were reportedly credited with a significant amount of money by the same importer, to also block all investigative efforts on the federal level.
It may be recalled that a chemical reaction in the country’s vast crude oil reserves was blamed for the gas leak that took place in February 2020, but the theory was later rejected due to lack of evidence.
The emissions were theoretically accounted to a ship carrying a soybean consignment- a possibility that the University of Karachi’s International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) was not keen to rule out.
The incident was later opened to probes by various agencies. But during the same time the coronavirus pandemic also sunk its claws into mega city, eventually becoming the sole subject of all public attention. Since then, the matter and its inquiry had remained in a standstill till December of 2020, when another gas leak in the same vicinity triggered a new set of investigations into the case.
Submitting its investigation report on the incident to the Supreme Court, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), tied the December incident to the gas leakage of February 2020. It said that since the incident, carbon monoxide, small toxic particles and dust emissions had exceeded the prescribed limit in the atmosphere of the area.
SEPA further added that when the toxic gases in the atmosphere were higher than usual, soybean and petroleum-coke fuels were being unloaded at the port from various cargo ships, during which there were no health and environmental protection measures taken into consideration.
It should however be noted that the issue has also surrounded a power struggle between SEPA and KPT. According to anonymous SEPA sources, KPT members, declaring themselves under the federal control, do not allow environmental monitoring at the local port, while also remaining ignorant of measures for environmental protection.
On the other hand, KPT authorities claim that it falls under the purview of the federal environmental protection agency, so SEPA does not need to monitor its ports or its measures for environmental protection.
In the midst of this battle for jurisdiction, the gas leaks responsible for claiming dozens of lives since last year, appear to have frazzled out public and administrative attention. While the case dwells in stagnancy, the culprits sleep peacefully knowing that a political heavyweight guards their villainy and like all ills, this too shall soon wash into yesterday’s news.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8