Keamari gas leak: what really happened?

FEBRUARY 25, 2020

I have worked for most of my life in the petroleum and other industries, located at the shore of the Arabian Sea in Karachi. So, I know the kind of horrible stench the people, who live in the coastal areas, have to endure on most days, especially when the tide is low in winter or when rotting fish is washed ashore.

Besides, Hydrogen Sulphide, released by petroleum crude oil in small quantities, is always present in the air in the vicinity of the oil terminals in Keamari. So, Hydrogen Sulfide could not have been the “toxic gas,” which resulted in the tragic deaths of 14 people. I doubt if we’ll ever know what happened (which is the norm in this country).

Panic-stricken residents will continue to believe that there is a massive cover-up and that the government is protecting those who should be behind bars. Some thought it was vapour from a radioactive blast, while others thought a ship carrying chemicals had released the gas into the air. “Because Pakistan is a third-world country, the ship’s captain knew it wouldn’t have the means to find out which gas it was and where it came from,” said one resident.
“It’s been done to make us stop thinking of the high cost of food due to the government’s policies,” said another.
There were rumours that the “gas” was a mutation of the Coronavirus, which has recently wreaked havoc in China and other countries. In the meantime, the people of Karachi have received Whattsapp messages; advising them not to consume seafood until there is definite evidence that fish and crabs are not contaminated. People are also scared to go to the beaches as they think the gas leak may occur again.
As for the claim that it was soybean dust that caused allergic reactions resulting in the fatalities, this is not the first time that soybean has been unloaded at the port. A TV channel showed workers sweeping away soybean on the ground without being affected at all (even though they were not wearing face masks). The ship’s captain was told to move to Port Qasim (an unnecessary step, as the “leak” had already stopped).
And now for the third suspect: Methyl Bromide, the highly toxic pesticide gas used in fumigation of containers at the port. This product is banned in most countries, yet its use is allowed in Pakistan. Some doctors have theorised that the victims may have inhaled it in very large quantities and succumbed. Again, the fumigation contractor claims that none of his workers has suffered from using it, so it does not prove that Methyl Bromide caused the deaths.
So what caused the deaths of 14 innocent people? Committees will be set up, members will attend meetings, they will have tea and samosas, yet they too will not be able to solve the mystery. Those who were responsible for the event will remain at large. You know how the Punjab Government reacted with the “speed of light” when it transferred hundred-and-seventy-five officials after the First Lady was not given due protocol at the Pakpattan shrine! The PTI parliamentarians “selected” from Karachi should act with the same speed to deal with such disasters. I highly doubt they have the will to do so.
The writer is an engineer, a former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College