The three-member probe committee of the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) has identified four major faults of the BM Container Depot where a deadly fire broke out on 4 June this year, but it has failed to find out how the blaze started.
Mismanagement, lack of security, absence of a fire-fighting system and skilled manpower were the key faults of the depot in Chattogram's Sitakundu, the committee headed by Chattogram Port Terminal Manager Kudrat-E-Khuda mentioned in its probe report which was submitted to the authorities recently.
The report, a copy of which The Business Standard obtained, said the depot kept hazardous chemicals and dangerous goods with apparel and other export products without maintaining safety measures.
"We might have not seen such massive casualties if the depot would be compliant," it reads and added that prompt action immediately after noticing the smoke at a container could have prevented the prolonged fire incident.
The smoke was seen on the container of One Shipping Line at 8.30 pm on the day, but there was no fire until then, according to the CPA probe committee.
"Later, the fire broke out and went out of control. The fire service was called around 9.30 pm but no one informed the rescue agency about the existence of chemical containers there."
Although the 24-page report failed to explain why the smoke was created and how the fume turned into a devastating blaze, it suggested further investigations on whether the fire broke out from a burning cigarette or due to a substandard chemical jar or any other reason.
When contacted, CPA Chairman Rear Admiral M Shahjahan declined to talk about the report. "We will formally disclose the report soon," he told The Business Standard and added that all the initiatives recommended in the report would be taken to prevent such a devastating incident in future.
The CPA report also blamed Al Razi Chemical, a subsidiary of the depot owner Smart Group, for its negligence in taking away its chemical-containing containers from the depot, which triggered the blast.
Al Razi was supposed to take the containers to its factory from the depot on 2 June, two days before the accident. "But, it did not do so. In addition, the jars containing hydrogen peroxide did not meet international standards. So, the company cannot avoid liability," the report reads.
When contacted, Smart Group General Manager Shamsul Haider Siddiqui told The Business Standard that they did not receive the report yet.
"However, the way we are being blamed is not completely true [fair]. There was a lack of planning in storing the chemical containers, but the depot had 177 fire extinguishers under a trained fire unit," he said, adding that there are also two water bodies inside the depot.
For all the container depots, the CPA report made four recommendations – taking prior permission to keep chemicals, separating the area for storing hazardous chemicals or dangerous goods, declaring depots smoking-free and installing fire hydrants.
It also suggested traders use particular depots well capable of storing chemicals. Besides, depots are recommended to train their workers in fire-fighting in collaboration with the nearest fire stations, maintaining good cooperation with the port, customs and other stakeholders.
What other agencies say
Apart from the CPA, five different agencies – fire Service, Chattogram district administration, Chattogram divisional commissioner, customs authorities and explosives department – formed probe committees to investigate the 4 June fire that left at least 49 killed and over 250 wounded.
"We were supposed to submit our report on Sunday. But we could not do so as some lab test reports were yet to be received," Additional Divisional Commissioner for Chattogram Mohammad Mizanur Rahman told The Business Standard.
"Hopefully, we will be able to submit the report within this week," he added.
"Several chemical experts, including university teachers, told us hydrogen peroxide was not the main cause of the blast. The fire probably broke out from other sources," Uttam Chakma, assistant commissioner of customs and a member of the inquiry committee formed by Chattogram customs, told TBS.
"Since the fire was out of control for a long time, the container carrying hydrogen peroxide exploded due to high heat," he added.