Bangladesh police allege negligence led to Chittagong depot fire, blasts

Kamran Reza Chowdhury and Sharif Khiam
2022.06.08
Dhaka
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Bangladesh police allege negligence led to Chittagong depot fire, blasts Members of the police’s Criminal Investigation Department leave the B.M. Container Depot in the Sitakunda sub-district of Chittagong, Bangladesh, after collecting evidence related to a deadly fire and explosions at the site, June 8, 2022.
BenarNews

The operator of a shipping container depot in Bangladesh where a fire and explosions killed dozens over the weekend did not have permission to handle chemical cargo, the home minister told BenarNews on Wednesday.

Police posted a complaint alleging negligent death and destruction of property against eight people from the company that ran the facility near the port of Chittagong, where containers filled with hydrogen peroxide caught fire and exploded after a blaze broke out Saturday night, case documents show.

“The BM container depot had no permission to keep chemicals in the container yard. The yard was for facilitating export-import of apparels and other commodities. They have violated the terms of contract with the government,” said Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, who visited the site on Monday.

“The accident would not have happened had there been no chemical-laden containers,” he said. “The owners, the officials and other persons responsible for the fire incident must face punishment; they cannot flee the country. The police have already filed a case against the company officials,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, a Rohingya man who worked illegally at the container yard in Sitakunda sub-district and who was taken to a local hospital on Sunday after suffering burns on the lower half of his body during the disaster has disappeared, his family members told BenarNews on Wednesday.

“I came to the hospital on Sunday and found him there that day, Muhammad Hashim said of his brother, Muhammad Farooq. “He was injured, not dead.”

Hashim said he went to get food and when he returned, his brother was gone.

“Now I am looking for him in different places, including the hospital,” Hashim said, adding that his brother was still missing on Wednesday.

Farooq’s cousin, Abu Qayes, who joined Hashim in the search, said about 20 Rohingya had been working at the container yard, adding the others had since returned to refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. Rohingya are not authorized to work outside of camps concentrated in and around the southeastern district near the border with Myanmar.

After the fire broke out, firefighters were hampered in bringing it under control by explosions that authorities have blamed on hydrogen peroxide, including some stored in shipping containers.

Death toll increases

Md. Abul Kalam Azad, the officer-in-charge of the Sitakunda police station, told BenarNews that the fire service officials recovered two more bodies on Wednesday night, bringing the death toll to 46. Authorities have said as many as 200 people were injured.

While Sitakunda police filed the complaint against eight B.M. officials, according to the case statement obtained by BenarNews, none have been arrested.

Charges listed in the complaint include causing death by negligence, causing injury and grievous injury by act endangering life or personal safety of others and causing financial losses under the Bangladesh Penal Code.

The offense of causing death by negligence carries a punishment of up to five years in prison and a fine if convicted, while the other charges each carry a two-year maximum sentence.

Safety measures lacking

The case document alleges that B.M. authorities had not taken proper safety measures to store dangerous chemicals and had not disclosed the presence of those chemicals. In addition, the yard lacked fire hydrants, firefighting equipment and trained personnel along with proper extinguishers for chemical fires.

It said several teams of firefighters were ill prepared and that they rushed to douse the fire with water instead of the proper extinguishers.

According to the case document, at one point six to seven chemical-packed containers simultaneously exploded, breaking glass in buildings 2 to 3 km (1.2 to 1.8 miles) away, while shards from the containers killed or injured on-duty firefighters, police and civilians.

 B.M. spokesman Shamsul Siddiqui said that an employee had called the emergency number 999 to report the fire and inform authorities about the chemical stocks at the yard before firefighters arrived.

He said the yard had 37 containers loaded with hydrogen peroxide for export – 27 bound for Vietnam and 10 for Pakistan.

“We have had clearance from the customs at the Chittagong port to export hydrogen peroxide,” Siddiqui said.

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