By Ruma Paul
DHAKA (Reuters) – Police in Bangladesh on Wednesday opened an investigation into eight officials from a shipping container depot after a blaze killed at least 44 people, including 10 firefighters, and injured around 200 others, officials said.
Firefighters put out the blaze at the depot in Sitakunda, 40 km (25 miles) from the southeastern port city of Chittagong, on Wednesday, four days after it began late on Saturday, triggering a series of explosions.
The investigation was opened into officials who were directly involved operating the depot on suspicion of negligence and mismanagement, senior police official Ashraful Karim said.
No one has yet been arrested. The owners are not under police investigation as two probe committees were looking into the matter.
Authorities have not determined the cause of the disaster but they suspect a container of hydrogen peroxide was the source for a massive blast that shook the neighbourhood followed by multiple other explosions.
Fire service officials said they had not been informed that chemicals had been stored at the depot.
A senior fire service official, Monir Hossain, said fire safety measures had not been implemented, with only a handful of extinguishers in a depot storing dozens of containers full of everything from clothes to chemicals.
The director and one of the owners of facility, the BM Container Depot, did not answer calls to his mobile telephone seeking comment.
The owners were quoted on Tuesday in Bangladesh newspapers including the Dhaka Tribune as saying hydrogen peroxide was being exported through the depot “following due process with the permission of the concerned authorities”.
“The container depot has an office of customs authority. They supervise the import-export work of the depot round the clock. It is mysterious that just one of the thousands of containers at the depot exploded. We want a fair and impartial investigation into this incident,” General Manager of Smart Group Major Shamsul Haider Siddiqui was quote as saying.
The death toll has risen to 44 after a worker from the depot died from his injuries on Wednesday, police said. Of the 200 or so injured, 50 were rescue officials, police said.
Some of the injured are in a critical condition, Chittagong’s chief doctor Mohammed Elias Hossain said.
Troops were trying to prevent chemicals spreading into canals and along the Bay of Bengal coastline, officials said.
Bangladesh is the world’s second-biggest exporter of garments but its industrial safety standards have not kept pace with its economic development and fires are common in factories and other places of work.
The last major fire in Bangladesh was in July when 54 people were killed at a food processing factory outside Dhaka.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Alison Williams)