The committee, led by Additional Divisional Commissioner Mizanur Rahman said that the owners and government offices responsible for the supervision of the depot “cannot avoid liability” for the fire that killed around 50 people and left more than 200 injured.
He said that they were tasked with identifying the cause of the fatal blaze, those responsible and coming up with recommendations to prevent such disasters in the future.
The committee included 20 recommendations in a report submitted to Divisional Commissioner Md Ashraf Uddin on Wednesday.
“We went to the scene and tried to determine who was responsible. But this is not final. A bigger probe can be launched.”
Ashraf Uddin said, “We’ll send the report to the cabinet. They will set the way forward.”
The blaze at the private container depot in the Keshabpur area started on Jun 4. The fire service, with support from the army, the navy, and other government agencies, put out the fire after 86 hours and carried out rescue operations in the meantime.
Authorities formed six investigation committees to look into the inferno.
Containers of hydrogen peroxide produced by a Smart Group company named Razi Chemical Complex Limited were stored at the depot.
Mizanur said, “That hydrogen peroxide sparked the flames.”
The inland depot was set up through the investment of private companies in Bangladesh and the Netherlands in 2011. It is owned by Mostafizur Rahman, chairman of the Bangladesh Smart Group of Industries and his younger brother Mujibur Rahman, an Awami League leader from the Chattogram South District.
Since engaging in dousing the flames, the fire service has been singling out hydrogen peroxide as the cause of the fire, which escalated with intermittent blasts. The fire service also lost nine members in the incident.
After depot went ablaze around 30km away from Chattogram city around 9pm, two units of the fire service from Kumira and Sutakunda began the daunting task as the blasts, which rocked and damaged houses in the nearby village, spread the flames.
As many as 25 units of the fire service united to spray water and rescue survivors while the army and navy also joined forces.
According to the depot authority, there were 4,400 containers in it. Rescuers reported that the flames had consumed 400 of them.
The police started a case against eight individuals over the fire and fatalities charging them with mismanagement and neglect of the private terminal.
The accused are all officials of the depot - Deputy General Manager Nurul Akter, Manager (admin) Khaledur Rahman, Assistant Officer Abbas Ullah, Senior Executive Mohammed Nasir Uddin, Assistant Manager Abdul Aziz, Container Freight Station In-charge Saiful Islam, Station Officer Nazrul Islam and General Manager Nazmul Akter Khan.
On Jun 5, firemen found some blue cracked and melted jerricans spread across the ground alongside some charred and burning containers. The jerricans were tagged “hydrogen peroxide” with caution on being highly flammable.
The investigation committee said the depot had a total of 37 containers of hydrogen peroxide, each containing 680 30-litre jerricans of chemical. The fire set 25 of those containers ablaze.
The jerricans did not have proper documentation either.
“Hydrogen peroxide is known as a hazardous chemical according to IMDG (International Maritime Dangerous Goods) code. Some of these chemical containers were there for more than 40 days due to export issues. Some invoices mention four delays [in delivery],” a member of the investigation committee said
On Jun 5, Chattogram Fire Service and Civil Defence Deputy Director Anisur Rahman said his men initially tried to bring the flames under control with water as usual, but it triggered the explosions. They had no idea about the hydrogen peroxide.
The Department of Explosives and Department of Environment pointed out that the depot had no permission to store flammable materials. They claimed that some other flame-inducing materials along with hydrogen peroxide was also responsible for the blasts.
Mizanur said the committee quizzed 24 people during the investigation, including eyewitnesses - the depot owners, officials of Al-Razi Chemical Complex, a plant owned by the depot, staff linked to running the private terminal, shipping lines officials and government employees.
But they were unable to question the executive director and general manager of the depot.
They received eyewitness accounts but failed to acquire CCTV footage as there was no back up.
“Authorities not having a back up in such a modern facility is unacceptable,” Mizanur said.
On the recommendations made by the committee, he said, “We’ve suggested revising the law for preserving dangerous good. Besides storing or off-dock in private terminals require approval from 25 organisations. We’ve asked to prioritise the coordination among these organisations to avoid future mishaps.”
The committee also highlighted the lack of fire extinguishers and management flaws in the report.