Sitakunda container depot fire and the same old question

| Updated: June 08, 2022 22:48:05

--Representational image --Representational image

Negligence, official or otherwise, in matters of enforcing industrial safety has yet again led to the loss of 49 lives. And the toll of the country's first shipping container depot fire is likely to rise, as many among the burn victims are now lying in critical conditions at various hospitals in Dhaka and Chittagong. Of all the major fires in recent times, the one that broke out at the private container terminal at Sitakunda, 40 km off Chittagong Port, was the fiercest and the ugliest. It produced a horrific scene as people lost body parts and were left dead right on the spot as the containers exploded one after another. The Sitakunda fire has dwarfed the two major fire incidents involving chemical storage and shops in Old Dhaka--- the Nimtali fire had claimed 124 lives in 2010 and the Churihatta fire 80 in 2019, in terms of ferocity and devastation.

It is now clear that the victims of the container depot fire, who included fire brigade personnel, port workers, and others living nearby, were unaware of the presence of chemicals inside the containers. They rushed to the spot and tried to bring the fire under control. However, a sudden blast, the sound of which reportedly could be heard from a distance of several kilometres, had created a hellish situation at the place of occurrence. Many died on the spot, with their bodies remaining charred beyond recognition. Others lost their body parts in the impact of the container explosion. It was a ghastly scene.

The way the people from all walks of life came forward to help the fire victims deserves strong appreciation. They rushed to the Chittagong Medical College Hospital and some other government hospitals with medicines and food. Private vehicles ferried the injured from the container depot to the hospitals. Several hundred people got their names registered for donating blood. Truly, it was a unique display of sympathy and love for fellow human beings in distress. The families of the fire victims who perished in their bid to bring the fire under control need all sympathy from the state and the depot authority. The port authority has reportedly decided to provide financial help worth Tk.1.0 million to the families of each of the dead persons. The State naturally would extend all possible help to the families of the fire brigade and civil defence heroes who laid down their lives while on duty.

All this help and sympathy, however, would not compensate for the loss that the families of fire victims will be enduring. What remains the most important task for the government is stopping the recurrence of such accidents. The Sitakunda fire has again brought one particular question to the fore: why is the fire safety issue being bypassed or not addressed properly? The fire brigade personnel involved in dousing the container depot fire alleged that none from the depot had informed them about the presence of containers stuffed with chemicals. Then what is the department of explosives doing? Are ports or container depots out of their jurisdiction? Containers with chemicals inside need to carry special stickers and be stored in a safe zone at ports and container depots. Being careful would not cost much. But it would save lives and properties worth billions. After every major fire, pieces of advice and suggestions come aplenty from all directions. Unfortunately, the relevant agencies who are supposed to work on those prefer to be indifferent.

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