KARACHI: Eighteen labourers died and over 60 were injured when a crude oil tanker, brought to the Gadani shipbreaking yard in Balochistan for dismantling, caught fire after huge explosions.

“Dozens of labourers were working on top of the oil tanker at around 9:00am when I heard a loud explosion in the vessel and saw people falling into the sea. The ship caught fire afterwards and is still burning,” Abdul Latif, a driver at the Gadani shipbreaking yard, told The News via telephone.

He said heavy metal objects, pipes and large pieces of iron and steel spread far and wide after the loud explosion on the ship, which was heard miles away from the site of the incident, forcing labourers working in the area to run for their lives. He said those caught in the fire on the ship screamed for help and jumped into the sea to douse the flames.

Rescue teams of the Pakistan Navy, Army, Air Force and district administration rushed to the spot and started shifting the severely injured to hospitals in Karachi since there is no hospital in the shipbreaking yard to treat severely-injured or burnt patients. Many injured were rushed to the Civil Hospital Karachi in private vehicles.

Boats and helicopters of the Pakistan Navy, Army and Air Force were also called in to extinguish the fire in the crude oil vessel. Chief Minister Balochistan Mir Sanaullah Khan Zehri ordered an immediate halt to ship breaking activities at the Gadani shipbreaking yard till an investigation into the incident was completed and reasons behind the tragedy were sorted out.

As many as 10 labourers died within the first minutes of the incident, while others died at hospitals in Hub Tehsil of Lasbella District and Karachi’s Burns Center, Dr Younus Baloch, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), at the Gadani ship-breaking yard said.

Deputy Commissioner Lasbella district Zulfiqar Shah, who was overseeing search and rescue efforts and coordinating with armed forces and welfare organizations, said rescue teams were yet to go inside the vessel and locate any injured trapped inside the burning ship.

“Nobody knows the actual number of labourers who were working on the vessel when it caught fire after the explosion. Some say there were 80 people, some say the number was 130 and some even claim that 200 labourers were on the ship at the time of the incident,” Shah claimed.

Emergency was declared at the CHK’s Burns Center and recently-established Trauma Center, Additional Medical Superintendent of CHK Dr Abdul Qadir said, adding that they had made arrangements for around 150 patients. However, only 35 patients were received, of which 20 were seriously injured and extremely burnt patients.

Labourers and health officials said those died and injured in the fire incident were working without protective gear and there were no arrangements to extinguish such a huge fire at the Gadani ship-breaking yard or to shift extremely-injured patients to hospitals.