Dock blast death toll rises to eight

The deaths of eight people who were working on a tanker at the Perama dockyard, western Athens, prompted a violent response yesterday from dockworkers, who stormed the Merchant Marine Ministry in Piraeus. In the worst accident of its kind in more than two decades, it was confirmed yesterday that the death toll on board the Panama-flagged Friendship Gas tanker had risen overnight following an explosion on the ship. One of the dead was identified as the ship's first mate, a 48-year-old Filipino who was not named. Another of the victims was a foreigner while the remaining six were Greek. Four workers were also injured in the explosion. Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis expressed his «profound grief» over the loss of life. It is thought that seven of the dead died from smoke inhalation and one from burns. Two safety officers have been arrested in connection to the accident. A team of 23 metalworkers and members of the crew had been conducting repairs on board the vessel when the blast occurred. The workers had been using acetylene torches. An investigation has been launched into what caused the accident and will center on whether sparks caused an immediate explosion or if something caught fire and eventually led to the blast. The ship had been given a certificate that it was free of the liquid petroleum gas (LPG) that it had been carrying so the first scenario would imply that safety checks had not been carried out properly by public officials. Yiannis Stefanopoulos, the head of the metalworkers' union, suggested that safety was more lax at Perama than at other dockyards. «These kind of accidents no longer happen at shipyards such as Elefsina, Skaramangas, Syros and Halkida because they strictly adhere to safety rules,» he said. «Many shipowners come to Perama to save time and money. There, contractors take on work without any regard for safety. That's why we mourn victims almost every year.» Two workers were killed last July and five died in October 2001 in similar accidents at Perama. Dozens of stevedores vented their fury at Thursday's accident by marching on the Merchant Marine Ministry and tearing down metal fences. Riot police intervened to stop the protesters, who threw rocks at the building, from entering the ministry.