A fire at the truck terminal of the country’s biggest land port at Benapole has been brought under control by firefighters after a four-hour struggle.
According to the port’s security guard, the fire broke out around 3:30am Sunday near the truck station of the terminal, originating from a truck full of goods which came from India following the explosion of a drum containing acid.
As imports through Benapole form the backbone of countless businesses, the land port is a crucial point of the country’s economy, with more than 1.441 million metric tons being imported in the first 10 months of the 2017-2018 fiscal year and 1.065 million metric tons the year before, according to sources at the customs office.
Sources said the terminal where the fire started houses Indian trucks full of imported goods along with Indian-made chassis of vehicles and motorcycles on one side, and acids and chemicals on the other.
Trucks importing goods often wait up to two weeks to be unloaded, and two Indian trucks had been waiting in the shed for two days without their drivers. The fire began from somewhere near those two trucks and spread, damaging or destroying about 10 more trucks, 14-15 pickup vans, and almost 50 imported cartons full of motorcycle parts.
Alongside the vehicles, other imported goods such as paper, cotton, thread, bleaching powder, and others were destroyed in the fire, with total losses amounting to several crores.
On receiving news of the fire, director of the port Aminul Islam, deputy director Rezaul Karim, Sharsha Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Pulok Kumar Mondol, police, and local authorities rushed to the scene.
Benapole port Clearing and Forwarding Agents Association president Mofizur Rahman Shajon said: “As the port’s own fire service lacks the capacity to deal with large fires, they end up spreading and such incidents keep happening. As there is little space inside the terminals, vehicles and goods are often kept in cramped quarters, allowing for such accidents. Moreover, the timing of the blaze has to be considered.”
Local sources said the country’s premier land port has seen eight fires before this. A fire in shed number 23 of the port on October 2, 2016 caused damages of over Tk50 crore.
These fires have caused total damages of over Tk350 crore, for which importers have received no compensation to date. Port authorities refuse to insure the imported goods stored there for reasons unknown, and despite probe committees being formed to investigate the fires, their reports are kept under wraps.
As this fire occurred at the back end of a weekend, most of the truck drivers went back across the border to rest. Had they been present, some of the trucks incinerated by the fire may have been saved, sources said.
Jessore Fire Service Director Parimal Kundu said: “We did our best with our four units, and brought the blaze under control within four hours.”
When news of the fire spread, hundreds of locals rushed to the spot to help firefighters put out the blaze, and after almost four hours, the fire was brought under control.
Meanwhile, export and import through Benapole came to a halt on Sunday as Indian truck and lorry workers' unions stopped their activities demanding compensation for the losses caused by the fire.
Shree Kartik Chakrabarty, general secretary of Indian Clearing and Forwarding Agents Staff Welfare Association, said they will enforce an indefinite strike until they are compensated for the damage of 10 trucks of goods in the blaze.
The port’s director (traffic) Aminul Islam said: “We are yet to know the actual source of the fire, and it will take some time to evaluate the damage. A 10-member committee has been formed to investigate the matter, and their report will shed light on the situation.”
Headed by Aminul, the committee also includes members from the upazila administration, customs, port police station, and the fire service. The committee started their investigation Sunday afternoon.