EARTH Thailand

Laem Chabang ship fire raises more questions

Bangkok Post 31 May 2019 | Thodsapol Hongtong

A week after a fire broke out on a container ship at the Laem Chabang Port, sending up toxic fumes that harmed hundreds of people, there are more questions than answers about the mysterious incident.

"There are irregularities, which inevitably raised suspicions. The owner of the ship did not declare all cargo and intentionally concealed some of it, including extremely dangerous chemicals in 13 containers," Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn said after inspecting the scene at the port on Thursday.

"All the chemicals would be unloaded at a port in Samut Prakan province. What would be done with them? Those considerable hazardous chemicals could be used as precursors to produce many chemicals."

The former PTT Plc CEO also expressed his doubt about the cause of the fire on the Korean-registered vessel KMTC Hongkong. He said the highly hazardous bleaching agents on the boat, while adding oxygen to the fire, were not in themselves flammable and the fire suspiciously broke out in the early morning last Saturday when the weather was cool.

The owner of the vessel would be held responsible for criminal offences of causing injury and bodily harm to others and for civil offences of damage to property, the deputy transport minister said.

While the captain of the vessel is still being questioned, officials have yet to find out who sent the hazardous cargo, who was to receive it or why such huge amounts of chemicals were sent from China to Thailand, Mr Pailin said.

Laem Chabang port director Yutthana Mokkhao said the vessel carried 776 containers from China. Of the total, 460 were to be unloaded at Laem Chabang Port and 316 were destined for Samut Prakan province and Ho Chi Minh City.

Of the remaining containers, 13 contained altogether 325 tonnes of bleaching chemicals destined for the Unithai port in Samut Prakan, he said.

The fire and explosions started 6.45am last Saturday and took 18 hours to extinguish, he said. Hundreds of people were injured, mainly suffering eye, throat and skin irritation.

All 228 injured people were discharged from hospitals and 1,225 others reported minor symptoms and damage to their properties. About 3,500 tonnes of contaminated water remained in the vessel, Mr Yutthana said.

Anat Machima, Senior Operations Manager, Hutchison Laemchabang Terminal Ltd, the operator of Terminal A2 where the vessel docked, said the damage to the terminal was estimated at 100 million baht, not to mention economic damage as some vessels and many cargo ships could not use the terminal as scheduled.

Pol Col Preecha Somsathan, chief of the Laem Chabang police station, said officers were waiting for the names of the captain and crew members of the ship and details about its cargo which were crucial information for the investigation in this case.