Bring container depots under strict monitoring
We're perturbed to learn that a number of preventable factors worked from behind to cause the devastating blast at a container depot in Sitakunda, Chattogram in early June, which went on to cause the deaths of 51 people. A government probe body, which has submitted its report after a month of investigation, said that the tragedy occurred, firstly, because of the utter negligence on the part of the owners of the BM Container Depot Ltd in checking on chemicals stored in the containers, and their failure to take steps for quick clearance of the consignment by importers.
Secondly, the port's supervising authorities, who were supposed to periodically check the condition of containers filled with inflammable chemicals, did not do their job properly. They are the ones who should have been able to sniff out possible causes or sources of fire. And finally, the probe body also mentioned the absence of enforcement of laws by the competent authorities in such cases. In plain language, the blame for the deadly blast at Sitakunda goes to owners of the depot and the relevant port authorities.
It is common knowledge that storage of hazardous chemicals in a depot without taking proper safety precautions is a serious offence as it puts the lives of people living nearby in danger. In case of the Sitakunda accident, the blast was originated in one of the hydrogen peroxide-laden containers stored in the open. Those containers were kept there violating related rules and regulations. This reminds us of similar conditions that led to a major fire and numerous deaths at Old Dhaka some years back. Taking advantage of lax monitoring by the authorities, traders stored chemical drums in some rented houses which only proved to be ticking bombs.
While we appreciate that the probe body has submitted 20 recommendations to avoid similar tragedies in the future as well as proposals for amending several existing rules and regulations on depot operations, monitoring and management, we find it problematic that the related laws do not clearly mention which authorities would deal with safety management and monitoring of a container depot, or monitor the compliance of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) code. The investigation, in fact, revealed how the private container depots are running their businesses flouting laws regarding safety measures.
We hope these depots will now be brought under strict monitoring as per recommendations by the probe body. The higher authorities must bring needed reforms and punish those responsible for the Sitakunda tragedy. No dillydallying should be entertained.