State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury has said no explosives have been found at the BM Container Depot in Sitakunda, and rather raised the spectre of sabotage behind the fire.
He was making remarks at the Secretariat on Tuesday, after returning from visiting the depot and witnessing the damage and loss of life.
"It is being said there was hydrogen peroxide," Khalid said, trying to explain that the hydrogen peroxide had nothing to do with the large blast that occurred 45 minutes to an hour after an initial fire broke out, that firefighters were fighting at the time.
This first blast, said to have been felt as far as 4 kilometres away from the epicentre, totally transformed the scale of the disaster. Among many others, perhaps the majority of the victims, 9 firefighters are apprehended to have died from the sheer force and intensity of this blast, that left an apocalyptic scene of severed limbs strewn around the depot.
In a shocking lapse that can only be blamed on the depot authorities, those first responders were not informed of hydrogen peroxide being stored at the depot.
"But hydrogen peroxide is not an explosive item," Khalid kept insisting today, even though no-one said it was. "It is an approved export item that Bangladesh has been exporting for a long time."
The junior minister believes only explosive items can cause explosions. Hydrogen peroxide is certainly not in that category. It is not even classified as a flammable or combustible item, as it will not fuel a fire on its own. Where there is already a fire though, hydrogen peroxide, or H2O2, can be very dangerous.
That is because it is an oxidizer, which means it adds oxygen or other elements that behave similarly to a situation. Despite not necessarily being combustible themselves, oxidizers are treated as a 'severe fire hazard'. Depending on the amount, they can 'greatly intensify fires and cause explosions'.
Being an approved export item or how long it has been exported has nothing to do with its chemical properties.
Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury also praised the depot for following the ISPS code (International Ship and Port Facility Security code), and being fully compliant. There was everything that an effective emergency fire fighting system requires, he observed.
"Even then, such a fire broke out. Whereas among all the container depots, BM Container Depot is said to be the best-managed," said the state minister.
Asked what could have caused the explosion, Khalid said oxygen itself does not burn but helps others to burn -"something like that" might have happened in this case.
If he didn't ignore the fact that hydrogen peroxide is an oxidizer, he may have acknowledged the danger posed by its presence.
Continuing the conspiracy rhetoric, Khalid referenced 'a rumour', in which the inauguration of Padma Bridge on June 25 was being tied to the Sitakunda fire. From this connection being drawn, the depot fire raises legitimate suspicions of sabotage, according to the state minister.
"From what I've seen, if you go practically, you will find the same. Everything will come out through investigation. We have expressed our concern, so those who are investigating may also take cognizance of this possibility," he added.
As a further point in favour of his conspiracy theory, he added: "Many are jealous of the way Bangladesh's economy is moving forward."
However, Khalid did assert that if the investigation were to find any negligence on the part of the owners, they would "definitely" be brought under the law.
"There is no doubt about it," he concluded.
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