Jebel Ali port blast was result of negligence, court finds

Five men held accountable for last year's explosion

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Five men have each been given a one-month suspended prison sentence and fined Dh100,000 after being convicted of causing the fire that led to an explosion on board a container ship at Jebel Ali Port last year.

According to the Dubai Misdemeanour Court, the vessel's 42-year-old Indian captain and four Pakistanis owning and representing shipping, marine, trading and cargo companies neglected safety procedures while a container with 640 barrels of organic peroxide type C was moved on July 7, 2021.

The court found that organic compounds were allowed to decompose, which was a direct result of negligence by the cargo shipping company.

Decomposition led to an exothermic reaction and pressure from fumes built up, according to expert testimony to the court.

As the containers were transferred to the ship, gas leaked from the barrels into the container, resulting in an explosive mixture.

Experts said the hot weather acted as an accelerator as temperatures had exceeded 40º Celsius.

One shipping and two cargo companies, a marine services business and a trading company, were also fined Dh100,000 each by the court.

Damages have been estimated at about Dh24.7 million.

The case will now be heard in civil court.

Cargo stored in direct sunlight for 12 days

According to official records, the vessel arrived at Jebel Ali Port at about 12.30pm on the day of the incident and 170 containers were loaded onto the ship between 7pm and 11pm, including three containers of organic peroxide.

After the workers loaded up, gas was seen leaking from one container followed by an explosion.

Residents heard it several kilometres away shortly before midnight on Wednesday, July 7, last year.

Five people suffered minor injuries.

The hazardous containers arrived at Dubai’s Jebel Ali port on June 27 from China and were kept in direct sunlight for 12 days until the day of the incident.

Jebel Ali Port is seen early the next morning by satellite. Two ships are seen in the photo spraying water on the stricken vessel.  (Planet Labs Inc.  via AP)

“The blast happened in one of the containers, followed by a second blast in a second container," said an investigator.

"The container’s door was strictly locked, which caused the increase in temperature inside. The blast was caused due by poor storage procedures."

He said placing of three containers on the vessel close to each other increased the risk.

Investigations showed that each person involved made errors that contributed to the explosion.

These include not co-ordinating delivery of the containers, poor storage procedures and failure to check the expiry of the barrels inside the container.

The investigation confirmed there was a mistake in the storage of the containers on the ship.

“The shipping and cargo company should have placed the hazardous materials in cooling containers. They should also check the validity of the bottles and proper stowage in the container,” a second official said in the records.

Captain's responsibility

The plan for storing the containers and positioning them on the vessel was made by the captain and given to the crane operator at the port.

“It is the captain's responsibility to stow the containers, including the hazardous one, on the vessel,” the second official said.

A crane operator supervisor in the port said they were transferring the containers to the vessel for four hours when a colleague told him about smoke or gas coming out of one of the containers.

Civil defence firefighters at the scene of the blaze that broke out at Dubai's main port of Jebel Ali following an explosion. Photo: Government of Dubai media office / AFP

“There were noises because of the pressure inside the container. I asked the operator to move back 100 metres for safety. Then, the explosion happened,” the supervisor said.

“I saw some containers falling to the sea and the dock after the blast. One container fell close to me.”

Dubai Public Prosecution charged the five men and the five companies with wrongfully causing the incident and subsequent damage as well as the injury of five men.

The captain denied the charge and said that he alerted the surveillance tower about the leaking smoke or gas and ordered the 14 crew members to evacuate.

He said that he would not have agreed to move the containers if he knew they were exposed to strong sunlight and high temperatures.

After the explosion, the blaze was quickly tackled and all operational and logistical operations at Jebel Ali Port resumed.

The situation was under control within 40 minutes.

Updated: August 30, 2022, 12:37 PM