BM depot fire hazards: Alerted, but to no avail
Six months before the deadly fire at Sitakunda's BM Container Depot on June 4, a team of Bangladesh Investment Development Authority visited the depot and found fire hazards like combustible materials kept near electronic machines and absence of a fire hydrant system.
On December 28, 2021, the BIDA team under the PMO visited the depot and submitted its report to its higher authorities on March 29 this year. The report, a copy of which this newspaper has obtained, mentioned 17 different violations, including those involving fire safety.
The investigators said yesterday that the deadly fire and subsequent explosions, which killed 48 persons including 10 firefightersand injured at least 200, could have been avoided if depot authorities implemented the report's recommendations in time.
They said depot authorities knew about their gross negligence but did not take any steps to correct it.
However, the team did not mention what kind of flammable material was found close to electronic machines. A fire hydrant system was not found inside the depot, said the report.
The team also did not find an alarm system, strobe lights, PA system, emergency lights and exit signage during the visit, the report said.
The reason behind the devastating fire has not yet been ascertained.
In the special recommendations of the BIDA team's report, the inspection team said, "Certificates should be taken through regular inspection of electric wiring and cranes and other security measures should be tightened. Apart from that, fire safety should be ensured by the fire service department and training should be conducted on fire safety, rescue, and primary treatment."
According to the report, the depot has no clearance from the Department of Environment and district administration offices, no licence from the Energy Regulatory Commission, no emergency stairs in establishments, no failsafe measures like cut-outs, circuit breakers in the power supply system.
Major (retd) Shamsul Haider Siddique, general manager of Smart Group -- the parent company of BM Container Depot -- told The Daily Star, "As per their recommendations, we've placed a work order worth Tk 1.5 crore to a third-party agency to implement the recommendations.
"However, the accident happened before the work started."
He said they got the BIDA report sometime in April, but could not say the exact date.
"The officials who have proper information about BM Depot are now in hospital beds [after being injured in the fire]," he said.
Fire service officials alleged that BM Depot authorities did not inform firefighters on June 4 that there was a huge stockpile of hydrogen peroxide, which could have caused the deadly blasts.
"During our visit, we found some combustible materials near the electric machines inside the depot," a member of the inspection team, preferring anonymity, told The Daily Star.
"We gave our findings in the report. Their [depot authorities'] negligence triggered the deadly incident and it could have been avoided if they acted properly."
Local Government Division Deputy Director Badiul Alam was the convener of the inspection team. Other members were Mahmudul Hasan, labour inspector (safety) of DIFE Chattogram; Engineer Rupon Barua, Boiler Inspector; Muhammad Mehedi Islam Khan, assistant explosive inspector of Chattogram; Shree Mazumdar, assistant director of Department of Environment; and Etu Chakma, deputy manager of Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Limited.
The report also mentioned that the depot structures were not approved by the local authorities and a fire hydrant system was not found at the site.
Due to lack of water sources, firefighters had to struggle to douse the flames. Water was later carried to the depot with the help of Bangladesh Navy.
Proshanta Kumar Mandal, public relations officer of BIDA, told the newspaper, We do not take any action based on initial inspections. Initiatives will be taken after receiving the final report.
"Several teams in Dhaka and Chattogram inspected about 10,000 institutions and submitted their reports. So far, the reports of 5,000 have been finalised. After receiving the [final] reports of all the organisations, we will take initiative to implement with final monitoring."
Muhammad Mehedi Islam Khan, assistant explosives inspector of explosives department, told The Daily Star, "After completing the inspection on 10-12 organisations, we have submitted our reports through the convener of the team. I cannot recall properly what problems we found at BM Depot at that time."
According to customs documents, the owner of BM Container Depot is Bert Pronk, a Netherlands citizens who owns 1.47 lakh out of 3 lakh shares and is the chairman of the company. Mostafizur Rahman, managing director of the company, owns around 1.38 lakh shares and Mujibur Rahman 15,000 shares as director.