Dubai Court of Appeal upholds verdict on Jebel Ali port blast case

Five men found guilty were given a one-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of Dh100,000

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Dubai's appeal court has upheld a one-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of Dh100,000 against five men convicted of causing the fire that led to a blast on a container ship at Jebel Ali port last year.

The verdict was given on November 14.

In August, the Dubai Misdemeanour Court found the vessel's 42-year-old Indian captain and four Pakistani owners and representatives of shipping, marine, trading and cargo companies guilty of neglecting safety procedures when containers of organic peroxide type C were loaded on to the ship on July 7, 2021.

But prosecutors appealed because they wanted a harsher sentence and deportation for the accused.

The men also appealed against the verdict and asked the appeals court to appoint a maritime expert to further investigate the matter but the court turned down their request.

Timeline of events

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.

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.

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

The vessel arrived at Jebel Ali Port at about 12.30pm on July 7, 2021, the day of the incident, and 170 containers were loaded on to the ship between 7pm and 11pm, including three containers of organic peroxide.

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

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

Five people suffered minor injuries.

“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 to poor storage procedures.”

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

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

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

“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.

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.

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

Updated: November 21, 2022, 2:44 AM